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


Scene 1

[A room in the palace at Fiori. Anselmo and Luigi.]

LUIGI. Nay, is that true, Anselmo?

ANS. Aye, ’tis true.
But no one saw save me, I drew her sword
Out of his heart and thrust it in its scabbard,
Where she lay senseless.

LUI. Oh, unhappy Queen!

ANS. Ay, she does not forget. Has it not struck you
She rides no more? Her black horse stands in stable,
Eating his head off. It is two years now
Since she has visited Lagoverde; and the Queen
Of Lagoverde comes not nigh this place.

LUI. There’s not the reason that there was to come
Before Octavia’s death.

ANS. Nay, ’tis not that.

LUI. Think you that Beatrice told her?

ANS. Ay,
I doubt it not.

LUI. ’Tis hard. They were close friends.

ANS. And since that day her hand upon the scepter
Trembles — and Guido sees. She goes too much
Among the people, nursing them. She loves them;
Their griefs are hers, their hearts are hers, as well.
But Guido has a following in this court
That hangs upon his word, and he has taught them
Her gentleness is weakness, and her love
Faint-hearted womanish whims, till they are eager
To pull her down, and see a man in place of her.

LUI. Her throne is like a raft upon a sea,
That shifts, and rights itself, and may go down
At any moment.

ANS. The more especially
For all these drowning beggars that cling to it,
Chattering for help. She will not strike them off.

LUI. Unhappy Queen. And there’s a storm approaching,
If ever I smelled wind.

ANS. I fear it Luigi.

[Exeunt Anselmo and Luigi. Enter Guido and Francesco.]

FRA. How do I know you love her still? — I know,
The way you fall a-tapping with your fingers,
Or plucking at your eye-brows, if her name
Is spoken, or she move across the court.
How do I know? — Oh, Guido, have I learned you
So little, then, in all these bitter years?
I know you very well.

GUI. You know too much
I’ll have an end of this, I tell you!

FRA. Ay.
You’ve told me that before. — An end of what?
What is this thing you’ll put this mighty end to?
‘Fore God I would I know. Could I but name it,
I might have power to end it then, myself!

GUI. I’ll have an end of these soft words at twilight,
And these bad mornings full of bile! I’ll have an end
Of all this spying on me!

FRA. [Gently.] ’Tis not so.
I do not spy upon you. But I see you
Bigger than other men, and your least gesture —
A giant moving rocks. — Oh, Guido, tell me
You do not love her! Even though I know
You lie, I will believe you — for I must!

GUI. [Pause.] Nay, I am done with you. I will tell you nothing.
Out of my way! — I have that on my mind
Would crush your silly skull like the shell of an egg!
Od’s body, will you keep your ugly claws
From scratching at my sleeve?

[He thrusts her roughly aside and rushes out.]

FRA. [Creeping away, sobbing.] Oh, God — oh, God —
I would whatever it is, that were over.


[Enter Fidelio, and crosses the stage, singing.]

FID. [Singing.]
“Rain comes down
And hushes the town.
And where is the voice that I heard crying?
Snow settles
Over the nettles.
Where is the voice that I heard crying?
Sand at last
On the drifting mast.
And where is the voice that I heard crying?
Earth now
On the busy brow.
And where is the voice that I heard crying?

[Exit Fidelio.]

Scene 2

[The court-room in the palace at Fiori, extremely crowded with restless
and expectant people. The crowd is arranged on both sides of the stage,
in such a way that a broad avenue is left in the middle, leading from
the footlights to the back of the stage and gradually narrowing to a
point at Beatrice’s throne. On the extreme right and left of the stage,
along the back of the crowd, stands the guard, a large body of armed
soldiers, at attention, in double row. On either side the throne stands
an armed soldier. As the curtain rises the court is all standing and
looking off stage in a certain direction. Enter the Queen, Beatrice,
from that direction, walks in, looking straight ahead, goes to the
throne and seats herself. The court sits. The clerk begins to read.]

CLERK. The first case to be heard is that of Lisa,
A widow with two small children, who resides
Near the Duke’s wood, and has been caught in the act
Of cutting trees there, and hauling them home to burn.

BEA. Stand, Lisa. You are a widow, I am told.
With two small children.

LISA. Ay, your Majesty,
Two little boys.

BEA. I know another widow, Lisa,
With two small children — but hers are little girls.
Have you been cutting trees on the Duke’s land?

LISA. No, Majesty. I could not cut a tree.
I have no axe.

BEA. And are you strong enough
To break a tree with your hands?

LISA. No, Majesty.

BEA. I see. What do you do, then? There must be
Some reason for this plaint.

LISA. I gather wood
That’s dead — dried boughs, and underbrush that’s been
A long time on the ground, and drag it home.

BEA. Have you a wood-pile?

LISA. Nay. I gather enough
Each day for the day’s need. I have no time
To gather more.

BEA. And does the dry wood burn
As well as other wood?

LISA. Oh, better!

BEA. I see.
You would as lief, then, have this wood you gather,
This dead wood, as a green tree freshly cut?

LISA. Ay, I would liefer have it, Majesty.
I need a fire quickly. I have no time
To wait for wood to season.

BEA. You may sit down,

LISA. Is the Duke’s agent here?

AGENT. Ay, here.

BEA. What is it the Duke’s custom to have done
With this dead wood on his estate?

AGENT. He burns it,
Your Majesty.

BEA. You mean to say, I think,
He pays a price to have it gathered and burned.

AGENT. Ay, Majesty.

BEA. Where is it burned?

AGENT. In a clearing.

BEA. And what is cooked upon it?

AGENT. Nothing is cooked.
The Duke is not a gypsy. [With irritation.]

[Slight titter in court-room, instantly hushed into profound silence.]

BEA. [Evenly.] If he were,
He would be shrewder, and not be paying money
For what this woman is glad to do for naught.
Nothing is cooked, and nobody is warmed —
A most unthrifty fire! Do you bid the Duke,
Until he show me sounder cause for plaint,
Permit this woman to gather unmolested
Dead wood in his forest, and bear it home. — Lisa,
Take care you break no half-green boughs. — The next case?

CLERK. Is that of Mario, a miller, accused
Of stealing grain. A baker, by name Pietro,
Brings this complaint against him,

MESSENGER. [Rushing in and up to throne.] Majesty,
Bianca of Lagoverde lies a-dying,
And calls for you!

BEA. [Rising.] She calls for me?

MESSENGER. Ay, Majesty.

[Beatrice stands very still a moment, then turns to the townspeople.]

BEA. [Earnestly and rapidly,] You people, do you go now and live kindly
Till I return. I may not stay to judge you;
Wherefore I set you free. For I would rather
A knave should go at large than that a just man
Be punished. If there be a knave among you,
Let him live thoughtfully till I return.

[She steps down from the throne, and is immediately
seized by the arm on either side by the two guards who
have been standing beside the throne.]

BEA. Why, what is this, Enrico? [Looking up at the soldier on her right.]
Nay, it is not
Enrico! [Looking to other side.] Nor is it Pablo! How is this?

[From each side of the stage one row of the double
row of soldiers detaches itself, marches down around the
front of the stage and up towards the throne, making an
armed alley for the Queen to walk down, and entirely
surrounding the crowd.]

Nay, all new faces. So! Upon my word,
And keep your fingers from me! — I see you there,
Angelo! Do not turn your head aside!
And you, Filippo! — Is the sick hand better
I bound the bandage on? — Is’t well enough
To draw a sword against me? — Nay, I am sick.
I, that have loved you as your mothers love you —
And you do this to me! Lead me away.

[The two guards lead out the Queen. Nobody else moves. The
townspeople cower and stare. The two little pages that bore her
train as she entered remain back of the throne, not knowing what to
do. As she goes by them, her train dragging on the ground, the two
ragged little boys of Lisa, the wood-gatherer, run out from the
group of citizens, pick up the ends of her train, and go out,
holding it up, one of them with his arm over his eyes.]

Scene 3

[A dungeon. Beatrice alone, sitting on a bench, her head bowed in
her hands. Enter Guido]

BEA. Guido, is’t you!

GUI. Ay, it is I, my Queen.
You sent for me, am I mistake not?

BEA. Ay.
Guido, you will not keep me when I tell you
Snow–White is dying and calls my name!

GUI. I knew that.

BEA. You knew that, and you hold me here. Oh, Heaven!
What are you?

GUI. I am a man. You should have thought
Of that before. I could have been your friend
If it had pleased you. Failing that, I am
Your enemy. I am too aware of you,
And have been ever, to hold me in at less.

BEA. Guido. I beg of you upon my knees
To let me go!

GUI. And why should I do that?

BEA. For pity’s sake!

GUI. I do not know the word.

BEA. Then for the sake of my sworn hand and seal
Upon a paper yielding fair to you
This sovereignty you prize. It is to me
Little enough tonight. I give it gladly.

GUI. You have no power to give what I have taken
Already, and hold upon my hand, Rose–Red,

BEA. Oh, do not call me that! Oh, Guido, Guido,
I cannot suffer further! Let me go!
If only for a moment, let me go!
I will return — I will but take her hand,
And come away! I swear it! Let me go!

GUI. On one condition only.

BEA. Ay! ’Tis granted,
Ere it is spoken!

GUI. That upon returning
You come to me, and give yourself to me,
To lie in my arms lovingly. [She is stricken speechless.] You hear?
To lie in my arms lovingly.

BEA. Oh, God!

GUI. It is my only word.

BEA. Oh, God! Oh, God!

GUI. ’Tis granted?

BEA. Nay — I cannot! I will die
Instead. Oh, God, to think that she will lie there
And call for me, and I will never come!

GUI. Goodnight. [He goes to door.]

BEA. [In a quiet voice.] Guido!
It shall be as you say.

GUI. [Rushing to her.] Ah, Beatrice!

BEA. Nay, touch me not yet.
I will return. [She laughs like a child.] Why — ’tis a simple matter!
I wonder now that even for a moment
I held myself so dear! When for her sake
All things are little things! — This foolish body,
This body is not I! There is no I,
Saving the need I have to go to her!

Scene 4

[A room at Lagoverde. Bianca lying in bed, ill to death. The children
clinging to the bed, their nurse trying to draw them away, Giulietta
a maid, in the background. Possibly other attendants about.]

LITTLE ROSE-RED. Tell us a story, mother!

NURSE. Come away, now!

LITTLE SNOW-WHITE. Tell us a story!

BIA. Do you go away with nurse
A little while. You will bring them back to me

NURSE. [Weeping.] Ay, madam.

[She goes out with the children.]

BIA. Later — not much later,
I think. — Hear you no sound of horses yet,
Giulietta, galloping this way?

GIU. Nay, not yet.

BIA. [To herself.] I will not go until she comes. I will not.
Still — if I should — Giulietta!

GIU. [Coming quickly to the bed.] Ay, my mistress!

BIA. She will come, I tell you!

GIU. Ay, I doubt it not.

BIA. Ay, she will come. But if she should come late,
And I no longer be here to receive her,
Show her all courtesy, I conjure you.
She will be weary, and mightily distraught.
Make her take wine — and bring the children to her.
And tell her, they are hers now. She is their mother.

[Giulietta starts to go back to the window.]

And say to her — wait! — I have a message for her.
Say to her this, Giulietta: The foot stumbles,
The hand hath its own awkward way; the tongue
Moves foolishly in the mouth; but in the heart
The truth lies — and all’s well ‘twixt her and me.
Can you remember that?

GIU. Ay, madam, I think so.
If not the words, at least the gist of it.

BIA. Forget it all, my good child, but forget not:
All’s well ‘twixt her and me.

GIU. Nay, that I have.

BIA. I will sleep now a little. Do you leave me.
But go not far. [She lies still for a moment, then starts up.]
I hear the sound of hoof-beats!

GIU. Nay, madam.

BIA. Ay, I tell you! I can hear them!
My face upon the pillow brings my ear
Nearer the ground! She is coming! Open the door!

[She kneels up in bed and holds out her arms towards the door,
maintaining this position till Beatrice comes. Giulietta, weeping,
opens the door, and stands in it, shaking her head sadly.]

GIU. [Suddenly lifting her head and listening.] Nay, it is so! I hear it
now myself!
Ay, there’s a horse upon the bridge!

BIA. She’s coming!
Stand back! Stand out of the doorway! [Pause.]

SERVANT. [Entering.] Majesty,
The Queen is here.
Ay, ay! Stand out of the doorway! [Pause.]

GIU. She is here! She is in the court! She has leapt from horse!
Madam, Oh, God be praised! This way!

BIA. Sister!

[Beatrice enters in her riding clothes, leaps to the bed, Bianca
throws her arms about her neck, and dies.]

BEA. [After a moment, looking down at her.]
Snow–White! Oh, no! Oh, no! Snow–White! [She screams.] Ah-h! Help me!
She is dying!

[Attendants and nurses rush in, also the children.]

LITTLE SNOW-WHITE. Mother, wake up!

LITTLE ROSE-RED. Come out of doors!

BEA. Take them away. Snow–White! [Leaning over the bed.]

NURSE. Nay, it is over,

BEA. Leave me. Leave me alone with her.

[Exeunt all but Beatrice. She kneels beside the bed.]

Scene 5

[A room at Lagoverde, The next day. Beatrice alone.]

BEA. In sooth, I do not feel the earth so firm
Under my feet as yesterday it was.
All that I loved are gone to a far land,
And left me here alone, save for two children
And twenty thousand enemies, and the thing
Of horror that’s in store for me. Almost
I feel my feet uprooted from the earth,
There’s such a tugging at me to be gone.
Save for your children, [Looking off stage towards Bianca’s room.]
‘twould be simple enough
To lay me down beside you in your bed,
And call on Death, who is not yet out of hearing,
To take me, too. [Enter Fidelio.]

FID. Mistress I have news for you.
Guido is dead!

BEA. Is dead?

FID. Ay, he is dead,
Dead of a dagger i’ the back — and dead enough
For twenty. Scarce were you gone an hour’s time
We came upon him cold. And in a pool
Nearby, the Lady Francesca floating drowned,
Who last was seen a-listening like a ghost
At the door of the dungeon, ’Tis a marvelous thing!
But that’s not all!

BEA. Why, what more can there be?

FID. Mistress, in the night the people of Fiori
Rose like a wind and swept the Duke’s men down
Like leaves! Your throne is empty — and awaits you!

[Enter Giulietta,]

GIU. Madam.

BEA. Ay, Giulietta.

GIU. Madam, last night,
Before you came, she bade me tell you something,
And not forget. ’Tis this: That the foot stumbles,
The hand doth awkward things, and the foolish tongue
Says what it would not say — but in the heart
Truth lies — and all is well ‘twixt her and you.

[She starts to go out, and turns back at the door.]

She bade me above all things to forget not
The last: that all is well ‘twixt her and you. [Exit.]

BEA. [Slowly and with great content.]
She is not gone from me. Oh, there be places
Farther away than Death! She is returned
From her long silence, and rings out above me
Like a silver bell! — Let us go back, Fidelio,
And gather up the fallen stones, and build us
Another tower.

This web edition published by:

The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005

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