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


Scene 1 — Five years later.

[A marketplace in Fiori, vegetables, fruits and flowers exposed for
sale in little stalls and wagons, crowd of townspeople moving about,
talking, laughing, buying. Group of children playing a game in a
ring. Supper time.]

CHILDREN. One, two, three,
The dough is in the oven!
One, two, three,
The bread is on the board!
One, two, three.
The dough is in the oven!
One, two, three,
The bread is on the board!
One, two, three,
All follow me!

EUGENIA. Good-even, Giovanitta. Those are beautiful
Onions you have there.

GIO. Ay, it has been a good year
For onions.

EUG. I am taking seven.

GIO. Each year,
You buy another onion!

EUG. Faith, each year
I have another mouth to thrust it in!
Beautiful carrots, too, you have.

GIO. Ay, carrots
Are well enough. One cannot complain. ’Tis a good year
For carrots.

CLARA. ’Tis a good year for many things.
Prices are low — but not too low for profit.

GIULIANA. And there are fewer taxes than there once were
On things one cannot live without.

ANNA. ’Tis a good Queen
We have, it must be granted.

GIO. Ay, and a wise one.

GILDA. And pretty, too.

GIULIANA. Ho, ho! When did you see her?

GILDA. This morning, mother. I was at the edge of the wood
With Beppo, when they rode by to the hunt,
Talking together, and laughing.

BEPPO. [Calling from across the stage.] And the horses
With feet like this!
[Arching his hands and feet to represent a horse stepping delicately.]

GILDA. And glittering in the sunshine
In a thousand places, mother! I wanted to tell you
When we returned, but you had gone to the brook
With the linen. They were so near us we could hear them

BEPPO. [Coming up.] And hear the horses breathe!

ANNA. What said they?

GILDA. Well, one of them said — what was the name?

BEPPO. Anselmo.

GILDA. Oh, ay. She said, “Anselmo, am I getting thinner
Do you think? If I be not thinner than I was at starting,
I shall descend at once! I like not this;
It chatters my teeth.”

BEPPO. And then she said —

GILDA. What said she?
Oh, ay — about the boat.

BEPPO. She said, “Next time
I shall go fishing instead of hunting. A boat
Hath a more mannerly gait!”

GILDA. There was one horse, mother,
That was all white! There was not one hair upon him
That was not white!

GIULIANA. And who was riding that horse?

BEPPO. A man. And riding well.

GILDA. He was dressed in green,
And had a yellow beard. And there was a lady
With hair the color of Adelina’s, bright
Like fire. She was dressed in blue, and was most beautiful.

BEPPO. And she was mounted on a dappled mare.

GILDA. But, oh, it was the Queen that was more lovely —
Than any of the rest!

GIO. How did you know, now,
It was the Queen?

GILDA. Nay, but you could not help
But know! She was not laughing like the rest —
Just smiling; and I would not have been afraid
To toss a flower to her from the wood,
If I had had a flower.

BEPPO. You knew her, though,
Because she was in scarlet. All the world knows
She wears a scarlet mantle!

GILDA. Nay, if that were all,
It might have been the Pope!

BEPPO. I would it had been.
I never saw the Pope.

GILDA. You never saw
The Queen until this morning! — Mother, she rides
Clothed like a man, almost!

BEPPO. With sword at side!

GILDA. And, oh, the sword had a jeweled — what is the name of it?

BEPPO. Scabbard, of course!

GILDA. A jeweled scabbard, mother!
I wish I were a queen.

BEPPO. Ho, you would make
A proper queen, with that droll nose of yours!

GILDA. I know a boy who likes my nose!

BEPPO. Ho, ho!
He must be a hunch-back!

GIULIANA. You must not tease her, Beppo.

GILDA. I wish I were queen. If I were a queen,
You would not dare to say my nose is droll.

BEPPO. It would be, all the same.

GIO. You should be content
With what you have, not cry to rise beyond it.
It is a sin to covet.

GIULIANA. Being a queen,
My bird, is not all riding to the hunt
Of a sunny morning.

ANNA. Nay, ’tis riding back
At times, of a rainy night, to such a burden
Of cares as simple folk have little mind of.

GILDA. I’d rather have a queen’s cares than my own.

BEPPO. Ho, ho! Your cares! What cares have you?

GILDA. I have
A brother that will be teasing me all times!
’Tis cares enough for one, I tell you.

ADELINA. [Across stage.] Beppo!
Come help me fetch the milk!

GILDA. Oh, Mister Beppo,
Your sweetheart calls you! Run and fetch the milk!

LEONORA. [From a house, coming out.] Come in to supper, children!

RIGO. Oh, not just yet!

ELENORA. Father’s not home yet!

LEONORA. You need not wait for him.

LOUIS. May we come out again?

LEONORA. [Joining other women.] Ay, for a time.
Till it gets dark.

RIGO. [To Louis.] ’Tis dark now, almost.

LOUIS. Hush!
She does not know it.

GIULIANA. ’Tis dark now.

LEONORA. Ay, I know.
I let them play a little after dark
Sometimes, when the weather’s fine. I would not have them
Afraid of shadows. They think I do not know
Darkness from light.

ELENORA. There’s father now!

RIGO. I see him!

[Elenora, Louis and Rigo run off the stage and along the path.]

LEONORA. He is late home today. I cannot think
What may have held him. ’Twill be deep night already
In the woods.

CESCO. [Off stage, harshly.] Down! Down! Do you run back to your mother!
See you not I am in haste? — Hang not upon me!

EUG. La! He is in a temper!

LEO. I never knew him
So out of patience with them.

GIU. He is hungry, maybe.

LEO. He is often hungry, but I never knew him
So out of patience. [The children come running back. To Elenora.]
Why do you weep, my heart?

LUI. Father is someone else tonight.

ELENORA. [Weeping.] He pushed me!

[Enter Cesco, with game on his shoulder, or a basket of mushrooms.]

SEVERAL WOMEN. Good-even, Cesco.

CES. [To Leonora.] Look you, Leonora,
Have we a bed fit for a queen to lie in?

LEO. Nay, faith! Not we!

GIL. She can have my bed, mother.

GIN. Ay, true. There is a bed in my house, Cesco.

GIO. What will the queen do here?

GIU. I would indeed
She had let us know that she was coming!

CES. The Queen
Knew not herself. Nor is she coming of herself.
They are bringing her — on a litter of crossed boughs,

GIL. She is not dead?

CES. Nay. Wounded in the arm
A little, and in a swoon. But the young King
Of Lagoverde is no more!

WOMEN. How so?

CES. I tell you my two eyes have looked this day
On a sad and useless thing! — A fine lad, young,
And strong, and beautiful as a lad may be,
And king of a fair country, thrust from horse
By a foul blow, and sprawled upon the ground —
Legs wide asunder, fist full of brown mud,
Hair in his eyes — most pitiful unkingly!
Bring me a mug of wine, good wife! [Leonora goes out.]

GIO. You, Gilda!
There is a queen you would not be tonight,
I’ll warrant you — the Queen of Lagoverde,
With her two fatherless babes!

EUG. Nay, now, good Cesco,
What is this matter?

CES. You’ll know it quick enough.
They will be bringing the queen here ere I have breath
To tell you. They are coming by the road,
I took the mountain-path, and ran.

GIU. I must hasten
To put fresh sheets on. [To Gilda.] Look you — listen well
If he should talk, and tell me afterwards. [Exit.]

EUG. Here comes Horatio! The boats are in.

[Some children rush down to the water-side.]

A good day, husband?

HOR. Ay, a heavy day.
What think you of that? — A big one, eh? — Came in
With a school of little fish — too greedy that time!
What happens here? — The air is full of breathing!

[The men come up from the boats with children clinging to them.
Beppo and Adelina return from another direction with the milk.]

LEO. [Somewhat proudly.] Cesco will tell you.

CES. In a word ’tis this: Today the Queen of Fiori,
Returning from the hunt, is set upon
By brigands; where at the King of Lagoverde,
Being hunting in that quarter and hearing cries,
Comes up to give his aid; in rendering which
He gives his life as well, and at this moment,
On other men’s legs, goes heavily home to supper.
The Queen of Fiori, wounded, and in a swoon
Only less deep than death itself, comes this way.

CROWD. Ay, here they come! [Enter Anselmo.]

ANS. Make way, make way, good people —
Fall back a little — leave a clear space — give air!

[Enter Laura and Francesca, Luigi, several gentlemen, several
attendants, four of them bearing a litter on which lies Beatrice, in
a scarlet cloak, her hair flowing. Luigi is with Laura, who clings
to him. If possible to arrange, several of the party may lead on
their horses and lead them off across the stage. The litter is set
down stage in full sight of the audience. Beppo comes down stage
near it, as does also, from another direction, Gilda. Giuliana

ANS. Who has a bed that we may lay her on?
She cannot leave this place tonight.

GIU. This way, sir.

[The attendants pick up the litter and go off, the crowd following.]

GIL. [Stealing back.] Hist, Beppo!


GIL. Heard you not something fall,
When they picked her up again?

BEPPO. Ay, that I did.

GIL. What was it, think you? [They search.] Nay, ’twas nearer here.

BEPPO. I have it. —’Tis her sword!

GIL. The Queen’s? Ay — truly.
How beautiful!

BEPPO. [Slowly and with awe drawing it from its scabbard.]
Look — there is blood on it!

Scene 2

[A room in the palace at Lagoverde. Bianca and her two little
daughters discovered at the rise of the curtain, she in a big chair,
they at her feet.]

BIA. And so the fairy laid a spell on her:
Henceforth she should be ugly as a toad.
But the good fairy, seeing this was done,
And having in no wise power to alter this,
Made all toads beautiful.

LITTLE ROSE-RED. They are not beautiful
Now, mother!

LITTLE SNOW-WHITE. That was in another country! —
What country, mother? [Bianca, lost in thought, does not answer.]

LITTLE ROSE-RED. Where is father, mother? —
I have not seen him in so many days!

BIA. Father is gone away.

LITTLE ROSE-RED. Will he come back?

BIA. Nay. He will not come back. But we shall go
Where he is.


BIA. God grant it may be soon!
Now —— shall we play a game?

[Enter Octavia.]

OCT. Bianca.

BIA. Ay.

OCT. It is a folly to remain indoors
Like this. You should be out in the sunshine.

BIA. Nay.
I have no business with the sunshine.

OCT. Ah,
My daughter, say not so! — The children, then —
They have much need of it, and they have need
Of you, at the same time. Take them without.

BIA. I do not wish to be in the sunshine.

Come out of doors!

OCT. You see, now!

BIA. Do you run out, dears,
And play at ball. Mother will join you later.

LITTLE ROSE-RED. Where is my ball?

BIA. Nay, do you not remember?
We put it in the ear of the stone griffin,
Because he hears too much.

LITTLE ROSE-RED. Ay, so we did!

LITTLE SNOW-WHITE. Come on, Rose–Red! [Exeunt children.]

OCT. It is a curious thing
This friend of yours you rate so monstrous high
Has not come nigh you in your sore affliction!

BIA. I beg you not to speak of that again,
Mother. ’Tis the third time today you have said that,
Or hinted at it. And I answer always,
“There is some reason for it,” as I should answer
Though you cried daily till the day of doom,
“It is a curious thing!” There is some reason,
There is some good reason why she does not come.

OCT. Oh, ay, I doubt it not! But there are reasons
And reasons!

BIA. And what am I to learn from that?

OCT. ’Tis scarce by reason of too much love for you
She leaves you friendless in your greatest need.

BIA. I cannot say. ’Tis one thing or another.
You have no words can turn me to believe
She has forgotten me, or loves me less.
’Tis a big thing, to leave me thus alone —
And there is some big reason.

OCT. Ay. Oh, ay.
’Tis possible she grieves for Mario’s death
No less than you,

BIA. [Simply] Ay, it is possible.
I mind she told me on my marriage-day
She was as happy as I.

OCT. ’Tis a curious thing,
When he was here she came to see you often,
But now that he is gone comes not at all.

BIA. [Simply.] Ay, it is curious. [Catching Octavia’s expression.]

BIA. Nay, what evil thing
Is in your mind, gives you that evil smile?

OCT. Only a little thought.

BIA. A little thought,
I’ll warrant you! — You’d have me to believe
She loved my husband?

OCT. Ay, I know she loved him.

BIA. It is a lie!

OCT. How dare you say I lie!

BIA. Oh, do not be so proud! Let us speak truth
At length, a little! We are so garnished up
With courtesies, so over-sauced and seasoned,
We cannot taste each other! Why do you tell me
A thing like that? —— You have no love for me!

OCT. [Weeping,] I love you too much — you are the only thing
I do love!

BIA. Nay, it is not love of me
For my own self. Else would you do the thing
Would make me happiest. You know how I have loved her,
Since we were children. You could not be to me
What she was; one forgets too many things.
You could not know my thought. I loved you dearly;
But you were hard to love; one never knew
Whether you would be hot or cold to touch.
Whilst she and I — oh, we were two young trees
So nearly of a height we had the same world
Ever within our vision! — Yet all these years,
Even from the time we first went to Fiori,
You have been bearing me your little tales —
“She had done this and that, she was thus and so —”,
Seeking to stir and poison the clear water
Of my deep love for her! And now this thing.
Which is not true. But if it had been true,
It would not be so out of all reason cruel
As that you should have told me of it now.
Nay, do not weep. All day ’tis one of us
Making the other weep. We are two strange,
Unhappy women. Come, let us be at peace.

[Pause. Bianca rises suddenly.]

Mother, farewell a little while. I go now
To her, seeing that she does not come to me.
But not to question her, not to demand,
“How comes it this? What can you say to that?”
Only to sit beside her, as in the old days,
And let her lay her quiet on my heart.

Scene 3

[The garden at Fiori, same as in Act I, Scene 1. Discovered seated
on a stone bench in the sunshine, Beatrice, clad in a loose gown,
looking very ill. Fidelio sings off stage.]

FID. [Singing.]
“Let the little birds sing,
Let the little lambs play.
Spring is here, and so ’tis spring —
But not in the old way.

I recall a place
Where a plum-tree grew —
There you lifted up your face
And blossoms covered you.
If the little birds sing,
And the little lambs play,

Spring is here, and so ’tis spring —
But not in the old way.

BEA. It is a pretty song. There be some things
That even the tortured heart’s profoundest anguish
Cannot bring down from their high place. Music
Is one of them. [Enter Grazia carrying a bowl.]

GRA. Now, will you drink this broth,
Or will you not? I swear upon my shroud —
And ’tis a solemn oath — I never nursed
So vaporous a patient! — Come, my bird!

BEA. [Taking the bowl, then setting it down.] Nay, Nurse, I cannot.

GRA. Oh, alackaday!
What shall I do with you? Come now, and drink me
The pretty broth, my dear!

BEA. I will drink it later.
’Tis too hot.

GRA. Ay, and in a moment ’twill be
Too cold! And you’ll not drink it! I could cry!

[Exit Grazia.]
[Enter Fidelio.]

BEA. Fidelio, as you love me, do you drink this,
And quickly, man!

FID. [With grief.] Oh, my dear mistress!

BEA. Drink!

FID. [Sadly, drinking.] I best would leave a little, else she’ll know
’Twas never you.

BEA. Ay, so you would. I’ faith,
It is a knave’s trick, but I cannot touch it.
Go now, Fidelio, ere she come again.

[Exit Fidelio.]
[Enter Bianca.]

BIA. [Softly.] Rose–Red.

[Beatrice looks up and listens, thinking it a dream.]

BIA. Rose–Red, dear sister!

BEA. [Bowing her head and weeping.] Oh, my heart!

BIA. [Coming towards her.] Why do you weep?

BEA. [Looking up startled and seeing her, jumping to her feet.]
Oh, no! Oh, God above!
Go back! Go back!

BIA. [Amazed, quietly.] Beatrice, are you mad?
’Tis I, Bianca.

BEA. [More quietly.] Ay, I know ’tis you.
And you must go away.

BIA. [Breaking down.] You are mad, my dear!

BEA. I would I were. For madmen have their moments
Of light into the brain. — Hear me. Bianca,
You must return at once to Lagoverde,
And come to me no more, and think of me
No more.

BIA. Ay. I will go. But ere I go
Tell me you do not love me, ’Tis apparent
You do not. I but wish to hear the words.

BEA. Nay, that I will not say. It would be well,
To say it, and let it be. But I’ll not say it,
It is not true.

BIA. You love me still?

BEA. I love you
More than all else on earth. But I have wronged you
So hugely that I cannot think of it
And stand here talking with you — I am ill —[She staggers.]
You must pardon me — I have been very ill —

BIA. Then it is true?

BEA. [With a cry as of relief.] Ay, it is true! Who told you?

BIA. My mother told me. I said it was not true.
But if ’tis true — I pity you, Rose–Red,
I pity him. I pity us all together.

BEA. [Feverishly.] Ah, I can see it now! — the quiet road
In the deep wood’s gathering darkness, the reins loose
On the horses’ necks, that nodded, nodded, and we
Speaking from time to time, and glad to think
Of home — and suddenly out of nowhere — fury,
And faces, and long swords, and a great noise!
And even as I reached to draw my sword,
The arm that held the scabbard set on fire,
As if the sleeve were burning! — and my horse
Backing into the trees, my hair caught, twisted,
Torn out by the roots! Then from the road behind
A second fury! And I turned, confused,
Outraged with pain, and thrust — and it was Mario!

BIA. [Wildly.] What are you saying? What are you saying? What is this
You are telling me? That it was you? Your hand —?
Oh, God have mercy upon me! Let me go!

BEA. [Pitifully, reaching out her arms towards her.]
Snow–White! Snow–White! — farewell!

BIA. [Without turning.] Oh, God have mercy!

[Exit Bianca.]

[Beatrice falls unconscious to the floor.]


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57