A Blot in the ’Scutcheon

Act I

Scene III

Robert Browning

MILDRED’S Chamber. A Painted Window overlooks the Park


Now, Mildred, spare those pains. I have not left
Our talkers in the library, and climbed
The wearisome ascent to this your bower
In company with you,—I have not dared . . . 
Nay, worked such prodigies as sparing you
Lord Mertoun’s pedigree before the flood,
Which Thorold seemed in very act to tell
—Or bringing Austin to pluck up that most
Firm-rooted heresy—your suitor’s eyes,
He would maintain, were grey instead of blue—
I think I brought him to contrition!—Well,
I have not done such things, (all to deserve
A minute’s quiet cousin’s talk with you,)
To be dismissed so coolly.

What have I done? what could suggest . . . 

                                               There, there!
Do I not comprehend you’d be alone
To throw those testimonies in a heap,
Thorold’s enlargings, Austin’s brevities,
With that poor silly heartless Guendolen’s
Ill-time misplaced attempted smartnesses—
And sift their sense out? now, I come to spare you
Nearly a whole night’s labour. Ask and have!
Demand, be answered! Lack I ears and eyes?
Am I perplexed which side of the rock-table
The Conqueror dined on when he landed first,
Lord Mertoun’s ancestor was bidden take—
The bow-hand or the arrow-hand’s great meed?
Mildred, the Earl has soft blue eyes!

                                                 My brother—
Did he . . . you said that he received him well?

If I said only “well” I said not much.
Oh, stay—which brother?

                                Thorold! who—Who else?

Thorold (a secret) is too proud by half,—
Nay, hear me out—with us he’s even gentler
Than we are with our birds. Of this great House
The least retainer that e’er caught his glance
Would die for him, real dying—no mere talk:
And in the world, the court, if men would cite
The perfect spirit of honour, Thorold’s name
Rises of its clear nature to their lips.
But he should take men’s homage, trust in it,
And care no more about what drew it down.
He has desert, and that, acknowledgment;
Is he content?

                You wrong him, Guendolen.

He’s proud, confess; so proud with brooding o’er
The light of his interminable line,
An ancestry with men all paladins,
And women all . . . 

                Dear Guendolen, ’tis late!
When yonder purple pane the climbing moon
Pierces, I know ’tis midnight.

                                        Well, that Thorold
Should rise up from such musings, and receive
One come audaciously to graft himself
Into this peerless stock, yet find no flaw,
No slightest spot in such an one . . . 

                                                  Who finds
A spot in Mertoun?

                Not your brother; therefore,
Not the whole world.

                        I am weary, Guendolen.
Bear with me!

        I am foolish.

                                        Oh no, kind!
But I would rest.

                Good night and rest to you!
I said how gracefully his mantle lay
Beneath the rings of his light hair?

                                            Brown hair.

Brown? why, it is brown: how could you know that?

How? did not you—Oh, Austin ’twas, declared
His hair was light, not brown—my head!—and look,
The moon-beam purpling the dark chamber! Sweet,
Good night!

Forgive me—sleep the soundlier for me!
        [Going, she turns suddenly.]
Perdition! all’s discovered! Thorold finds
—That the Earl’s greatest of all grandmothers
Was grander daughter still—to that fair dame
Whose garter slipped down at the famous dance!


Is she—can she be really gone at last?
My heart! I shall not reach the window. Needs
Must I have sinned much, so to suffer.

[She lifts the small lamp which is suspended before the Virgin’s image in the window, and places it by the purple pane.]
[She returns to the seat in front.]
Mildred and Mertoun! Mildred, with consent
Of all the world and Thorold, Mertoun’s bride!
Too late! ’Tis sweet to think of, sweeter still
To hope for, that this blessed end soothes up
The curse of the beginning; but I know
It comes too late: ’twill sweetest be of all
To dream my soul away and die upon.
[A noise without.]
The voice! Oh why, why glided sin the snake
Into the paradise Heaven meant us both?
[The window opens softly. A low voice sings.]

There’s a woman like a dew-drop, she’s so purer than the purest;
And her noble heart’s the noblest, yes, and her sure faith’s the surest:
And her eyes are dark and humid, like the depth on depth of lustre
Hid i’ the harebell, while her tresses, sunnier than the wild-grape cluster,
Gush in golden tinted plenty down her neck’s rose-misted marble:
Then her voice’s music . . . call it the well’s bubbling, the bird’s warble!

[A figure wrapped in a mantle appears at the window.]

And this woman says, “My days were sunless and my nights were moonless,
Parched the pleasant April herbage, and the lark’s heart’s outbreak tuneless,
If you loved me not!” And I who—(ah, for words of flame!) adore her,
Who am mad to lay my spirit prostrate palpably before her—

[He enters, approaches her seat, and bends over her.]

I may enter at her portal soon, as now her lattice takes me,
And by noontide as by midnight make her mine, as hers she makes me!

[The EARL throws off his slouched hat and long cloak.]

My very heart sings, so I sing, Beloved!

Sit, Henry—do not take my hand!

                                                     ’Tis mine.
The meeting that appalled us both so much
Is ended.

    What begins now?

Such as the world contains not.

                                                That is it.
Our happiness would, as you say, exceed
The whole world’s best of blisses: we—do we
Deserve that? Utter to your soul, what mine
Long since, Beloved, has grown used to hear,
Like a death-knell, so much regarded once,
And so familiar now; this will not be!

Oh, Mildred, have I met your brother’s face?
Compelled myself—if not to speak untruth,
Yet to disguise, to shun, to put aside
The truth, as—what had e’er prevailed on me
Save you to venture? Have I gained at last
Your brother, the one scarer of your dreams,
And waking thoughts’ sole apprehension too?
Does a new life, like a young sunrise, break
On the strange unrest of our night, confused
With rain and stormy flaw—and will you see
No dripping blossoms, no fire-tinted drops
On each live spray, no vapour steaming up,
And no expressless glory in the East?
When I am by you, to be ever by you,
When I have won you and may worship you,
Oh, Mildred, can you say “this will not be”?

Sin has surprised us, so will punishment.

No—me alone, who sinned alone!

                                                   The night
You likened our past life to—was it storm
Throughout to you then, Henry?

                                                Of your life
I spoke—what am I, what my life, to waste
A thought about when you are by me?—you
It was, I said my folly called the storm
And pulled the night upon. ’Twas day with me—
Perpetual dawn with me.

                                Come what, come will,
You have been happy: take my hand!

    MERTOUN [after a pause].
                        How good
Your brother is! I figured him a cold—
Shall I say, haughty man?

                                    They told me all.
I know all.

        It will soon be over.

Oh, what is over? what must I live through
And say, “’tis over”? Is our meeting over?
Have I received in presence of them all
The partner of my guilty love—with brow
Trying to seem a maiden’s brow—with lips
Which make believe that when they strive to form
Replies to you and tremble as they strive,
It is the nearest ever they approached
A stranger’s . . . Henry, yours that stranger’s . . . lip—
With cheek that looks a virgin’s, and that is . . . 
Ah God, some prodigy of thine will stop
This planned piece of deliberate wickedness
In its birth even! some fierce leprous spot
Will mar the brow’s dissimulating! I
Shall murmur no smooth speeches got by heart,
But, frenzied, pour forth all our woeful story,
The love, the shame, and the despair—with them
Round me aghast as round some cursed fount
That should spirt water, and spouts blood. I’ll not
 . . . Henry, you do not wish that I should draw
This vengeance down? I’ll not affect a grace
That’s gone from me—gone once, and gone for ever!

Mildred, my honour is your own. I’ll share
Disgrace I cannot suffer by myself.
A word informs your brother I retract
This morning’s offer; time will yet bring forth
Some better way of saving both of us.

I’ll meet their faces, Henry!

                                                  When? to-morrow!
Get done with it!

                    Oh, Henry, not to-morrow!
Next day! I never shall prepare my words
And looks and gestures sooner.—How you must
Despise me!

        Mildred, break it if you choose,
A heart the love of you uplifted—still
Uplifts, thro’ this protracted agony,
To heaven! but Mildred, answer me,—first pace
The chamber with me—once again—now, say
Calmly the part, the . . . what it is of me
You see contempt (for you did say contempt)
—Contempt for you in! I would pluck it off
And cast it from me!—but no—no, you’ll not
Repeat that?—will you, Mildred, repeat that?

Dear Henry!

                            I was scarce a boy—e’en now
What am I more? And you were infantine
When first I met you; why, your hair fell loose
On either side! My fool’s-cheek reddens now
Only in the recalling how it burned
That morn to see the shape of many a dream
—You know we boys are prodigal of charms
To her we dream of—I had heard of one,
Had dreamed of her, and I was close to her,
Might speak to her, might live and die her own,
Who knew? I spoke. Oh, Mildred, feel you not
That now, while I remember every glance
Of yours, each word of yours, with power to test
And weigh them in the diamond scales of pride,
Resolved the treasure of a first and last
Heart’s love shall have been bartered at its worth,
—That now I think upon your purity
And utter ignorance of guilt—your own
Or other’s guilt—the girlish undisguised
Delight at a strange novel prize—(I talk
A silly language, but interpret, you!)
If I, with fancy at its full, and reason
Scarce in its germ, enjoined you secrecy,
If you had pity on my passion, pity
On my protested sickness of the soul
To sit beside you, hear you breathe, and watch
Your eyelids and the eyes beneath—if you
Accorded gifts and knew not they were gifts—
If I grew mad at last with enterprise
And must behold my beauty in her bower
Or perish—(I was ignorant of even
My own desires—what then were you?) if sorrow—
Sin—if the end came—must I now renounce
My reason, blind myself to light, say truth
Is false and lie to God and my own soul?
Contempt were all of this!

                                        Do you believe . . . 
Or, Henry, I’ll not wrong you—you believe
That I was ignorant. I scarce grieve o’er
The past. We’ll love on; you will love me still.

Oh, to love less what one has injured! Dove,
Whose pinion I have rashly hurt, my breast—
Shall my heart’s warmth not nurse thee into strength?
Flower I have crushed, shall I not care for thee?
Bloom o’er my crest, my fight-mark and device!
Mildred, I love you and you love me.

Be that your last word. I shall sleep to-night.

This is not our last meeting?

                                                  One night more.

And then—think, then!

                            Then, no sweet courtship-days,
No dawning consciousness of love for us,
No strange and palpitating births of sense
From words and looks, no innocent fears and hopes,
Reserves and confidences: morning’s over!

How else should love’s perfected noontide follow?
All the dawn promised shall the day perform.

So may it be! but—
                                 You are cautious, Love?
Are sure that unobserved you scaled the walls?

Oh, trust me! Then our final meeting’s fixed
To-morrow night?

                Farewell! stay, Henry . . . wherefore?
His foot is on the yew-tree bough; the turf
Receives him: now the moonlight as he runs
Embraces him—but he must go—is gone.
Ah, once again he turns—thanks, thanks, my Love!
He’s gone. Oh, I’ll believe him every word!
I was so young, I loved him so, I had
No mother, God forgot me, and I fell.
There may be pardon yet: all’s doubt beyond!
Surely the bitterness of death is past.

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

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