A Blot in the ’Scutcheon

Act I

Scene I

Robert Browning

The Interior of a lodge in Lord Tresham’s park. Many Retainers crowded at the window, supposed to command a view of the entrance to his Mansion.

GERARD, the Warrener, his back to a table on which are flagons, etc.

Ay, do! push, friends, and then you’ll push down me!
—What for? Does any hear a runner’s foot
Or a steed’s trample or a coach-wheel’s cry?
Is the Earl come or his least poursuivant?
But there’s no breeding in a man of you
Save Gerard yonder: here’s a half-place yet,
Old Gerard!

Save your courtesies, my friend.
Here is my place.

Now, Gerard, out with it!
What makes you sullen, this of all the days
I’ the year? To-day that young rich bountiful
Handsome Earl Mertoun, whom alone they match
With our Lord Tresham through the country-side,
Is coming here in utmost bravery
To ask our master’s sister’s hand?

                                                    What then?

What then? Why, you, she speaks to, if she meets
Your worship, smiles on as you hold apart
The boughs to let her through her forest walks,
You, always favourite for your no-deserts,
You’ve heard, these three days, how Earl Mertoun sues
To lay his heart and house and broad lands too
At Lady Mildred’s feet: and while we squeeze
Ourselves into a mousehole lest we miss
One congee of the least page in his train,
You sit o’ one side—“there’s the Earl,” say I—
“What then?” say you!

         I’ll wager he has let
Both swans he tamed for Lady Mildred swim
Over the falls and gain the river!

Is not to-morrow my inspecting-day
For you and for your hawks?

                    Let Gerard be!
He’s coarse-grained, like his carved black cross-bow stock.
Ha, look now, while we squabble with him, look!
Well done, now—is not this beginning, now,
To purpose?

Our retainers look as fine—
That’s comfort. Lord, how Richard holds himself
With his white staff! Will not a knave behind
Prick him upright?

He’s only bowing, fool!
The Earl’s man bent us lower by this much.

That’s comfort. Here’s a very cavalcade!

I don’t see wherefore Richard, and his troop
Of silk and silver varlets there, should find
Their perfumed selves so indispensable
On high days, holidays! Would it so disgrace
Our family, if I, for instance, stood—
In my right hand a cast of Swedish hawks,
A leash of greyhounds in my left?—

                                                    —With Hugh
The logman for supporter, in his right
The bill-hook, in his left the brushwood-shears!

Out on you, crab! What next, what next? The Earl!

Oh Walter, groom, our horses, do they match
The Earl’s? Alas, that first pair of the six—
They paw the ground—Ah Walter! and that brute
Just on his haunches by the wheel!

You, Philip, are a special hand, I hear,
At soups and sauces: what’s a horse to you?
D’ye mark that beast they’ve slid into the midst
So cunningly?—then, Philip, mark this further;
No leg has he to stand on!

                    No? that’s comfort.

Peace, Cook! The Earl descends. Well, Gerard, see
The Earl at least! Come, there’s a proper man,
I hope! Why, Ralph, no falcon, Pole or Swede,
Has got a starrier eye.

                His eyes are blue:
But leave my hawks alone!

                 So young, and yet
So tall and shapely!

Here’s Lord Tresham’s self!
There now—there’s what a nobleman should be!
He’s older, graver, loftier, he’s more like
A House’s head.

But you’d not have a boy
—And what’s the Earl beside?—possess too soon
That stateliness?

Our master takes his hand—
Richard and his white staff are on the move—
Back fall our people—(tsh!—there’s Timothy
Sure to get tangled in his ribbon-ties,
And Peter’s cursed rosette’s a-coming off!)
—At last I see our lord’s back and his friend’s;
And the whole beautiful bright company
Close round them—in they go!

[Jumping down from the window-bench, and making for the table and its jugs.]

                                                            Good health, long life,
Great joy to our Lord Tresham and his House!

My father drove his father first to court,
After his marriage-day—ay, did he!

                                    God bless
Lord Tresham, Lady Mildred, and the Earl!
Here, Gerard, reach your beaker!

                                                 Drink, my boys!
Don’t mind me—all’s not right about me—drink!

    SECOND RETAINER [aside].
He’s vexed, now, that he let the show escape!
         [To GERARD.]
Remember that the Earl returns this way.

That way?

        Just so.

                               Then my way’s here.         [Goes.]

                                                                 Old Gerard
Will die soon—mind, I said it! He was used
To care about the pitifullest thing
That touched the House’s honour, not an eye
But his could see wherein: and on a cause
Of scarce a quarter this importance, Gerard
Fairly had fretted flesh and bone away
In cares that this was right, nor that was wrong,
Such point decorous, and such square by rule—
He knew such niceties, no herald more:
And now—you see his humour: die he will!

God help him! Who’s for the great servants’ hall
To hear what’s going on inside! They’d follow
Lord Tresham into the saloon.


Leave Frank alone for catching, at the door,
Some hint of how the parley goes inside!
Prosperity to the great House once more!
Here’s the last drop!

         Have at you! Boys, hurrah!

A Blot in the ’Scutcheon - Contents    |     Act I - Scene II

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