A Blot in the ’Scutcheon


Scene I

Robert Browning

The end of the Yew-tree Avenue under MILDRED’S Window. A light seen through a central red pane.

Enter TRESHAM through the trees

Again here! But I cannot lose myself.
The heath—the orchard—I have traversed glades
And dells and bosky paths which used to lead
Into green wild-wood depths, bewildering
My boy’s adventurous step. And now they tend
Hither or soon or late; the blackest shade
Breaks up, the thronged trunks of the trees ope wide,
And the dim turret I have fled from, fronts
Again my step; the very river put
Its arm about me and conducted me
To this detested spot. Why then, I’ll shun
Their will no longer: do your will with me!
Oh, bitter! To have reared a towering scheme
Of happiness, and to behold it razed,
Were nothing: all men hope, and see their hopes
Frustrate, and grieve awhile, and hope anew.
But I . . . to hope that from a line like ours
No horrid prodigy like this would spring,
Were just as though I hoped that from these old
Confederates against the sovereign day,
Children of older and yet older sires,
Whose living coral berries dropped, as now
On me, on many a baron’s surcoat once,
On many a beauty’s whimple—would proceed
No poison-tree, to thrust, from hell its root,
Hither and thither its strange snaky arms.
Why came I here? What must I do?    [A bell strikes.]    A bell?
Midnight! and ’tis at midnight . . . Ah, I catch
—Woods, river, plains, I catch your meaning now,
And I obey you! Hist! This tree will serve.

[He retires behind one of the trees. After a pause, enter MERTOUN cloaked as before.]

Not time! Beat out thy last voluptuous beat
Of hope and fear, my heart! I thought the clock
I’ the chapel struck as I was pushing through
The ferns. And so I shall no more see rise
My love-star! Oh, no matter for the past!
So much the more delicious task to watch
Mildred revive: to pluck out, thorn by thorn,
All traces of the rough forbidden path
My rash love lured her to! Each day must see
Some fear of hers effaced, some hope renewed:
Then there will be surprises, unforeseen
Delights in store. I’ll not regret the past.

[The light is placed above in the purple pane.]
And see, my signal rises, Mildred’s star!
I never saw it lovelier than now
It rises for the last time. If it sets,
’Tis that the re-assuring sun may dawn.
[As he prepares to ascend the last tree of the avenue, TRESHAM arrests his arm.]
Unhand me—peasant, by your grasp! Here’s gold.
’Twas a mad freak of mine. I said I’d pluck
A branch from the white-blossomed shrub beneath
The casement there. Take this, and hold your peace.

Into the moonlight yonder, come with me!
Out of the shadow!

                        I am armed, fool!

Or no? You’ll come into the light, or no?
My hand is on your throat—refuse!—

                                                        That voice!
Where have I heard . . . no—that was mild and slow.
I’ll come with you.

[They advance.]

                        You’re armed: that’s well. Declare
Your name: who are you?

                                (Tresham!—she is lost!)

Oh, silent? Do you know, you bear yourself
Exactly as, in curious dreams I’ve had
How felons, this wild earth is full of, look
When they’re detected, still your kind has looked!
The bravo holds an assured countenance,
The thief is voluble and plausible,
But silently the slave of lust has crouched
When I have fancied it before a man.
Your name!

        I do conjure Lord Tresham—ay,
Kissing his foot, if so I might prevail—
That he for his own sake forbear to ask
My name! As heaven’s above, his future weal
Or woe depends upon my silence! Vain!
I read your white inexorable face.
Know me, Lord Tresham!

[He throws off his disguises.]


[After a pause.]
                                                                Draw now!

                                                                        Hear me
But speak first!

                Not one least word on your life!
Be sure that I will strangle in your throat
The least word that informs me how you live
And yet seem what you seem! No doubt ’twas you
Taught Mildred still to keep that face and sin.
We should join hands in frantic sympathy
If you once taught me the unteachable,
Explained how you can live so and so lie.
With God’s help I retain, despite my sense,
The old belief—a life like yours is still
Impossible. Now draw!

                                Not for my sake,
Do I entreat a hearing—for your sake,
And most, for her sake!

                                Ha, ha, what should I
Know of your ways? A miscreant like yourself,
How must one rouse his ire? A blow?—that’s pride
No doubt, to him! One spurns him, does one not?
Or sets the foot upon his mouth, or spits
Into his face! Come! Which, or all of these?

’Twixt him and me and Mildred, Heaven be judge!
Can I avoid this? Have your will, my lord!

[He draws and, after a few passes, falls.]

You are not hurt?

                                        You’ll hear me now!

                                                                                But rise!

Ah, Tresham, say I not “you’ll hear me now!”
And what procures a man the right to speak
In his defence before his fellow man,
But—I suppose—the thought that presently
He may have leave to speak before his God
His whole defence?

                        Not hurt? It cannot be!
You made no effort to resist me. Where
Did my sword reach you? Why not have returned
My thrusts? Hurt where?

My lord—

                        How young he is!

Lord Tresham, I am very young, and yet
I have entangled other lives with mine.
Do let me speak, and do believe my speech!
That when I die before you presently,—

Can you stay here till I return with help?

Oh, stay by me! When I was less than boy
I did you grievous wrong and knew it not—
Upon my honour, knew it not! Once known,
I could not find what seemed a better way
To right you than I took: my life—you feel
How less than nothing were the giving you
The life you’ve taken! But I thought my way
The better—only for your sake and hers:
And as you have decided otherwise,
Would I had an infinity of lives
To offer you! Now say—instruct me—think!
Can you, from the brief minutes I have left,
Eke out my reparation? Oh think—think!
For I must wring a partial—dare I say,
Forgiveness from you, ere I die?

                                                I do
Forgive you.

        Wait and ponder that great word!
Because, if you forgive me, I shall hope
To speak to you of—Mildred!

                                        Mertoun, haste
And anger have undone us. ’Tis not you
Should tell me for a novelty you’re young,
Thoughtless, unable to recall the past.
Be but your pardon ample as my own!

Ah, Tresham, that a sword-stroke and a drop
Of blood or two, should bring all this about
Why, ’twas my very fear of you, my love
Of you—(what passion like a boy’s for one
Like you?)—that ruined me! I dreamed of you—
You, all accomplished, courted everywhere,
The scholar and the gentleman. I burned
To knit myself to you: but I was young,
And your surpassing reputation kept me
So far aloof! Oh, wherefore all that love?
With less of love, my glorious yesterday
Of praise and gentlest words and kindest looks,
Had taken place perchance six months ago.
Even now, how happy we had been! And yet
I know the thought of this escaped you, Tresham!
Let me look up into your face; I feel
’Tis changed above me: yet my eyes are glazed.
Where? where?

[As he endeavours to raise himself, his eye catches the lamp.]
                            Ah, Mildred! What will Mildred do?
Tresham, her life is bound up in the life
That’s bleeding fast away! I’ll live—must live,
There, if you’ll only turn me I shall live
And save her! Tresham—oh, had you but heard!
Had you but heard! What right was yours to set
The thoughtless foot upon her life and mine,
And then say, as we perish, “Had I thought,
All had gone otherwise”? We’ve sinned and die:
Never you sin, Lord Tresham! for you’ll die,
And God will judge you.

                                Yes, be satisfied!
That process is begun.

                                And she sits there
Waiting for me! Now, say you this to her—
You, not another—say, I saw him die
As he breathed this, “I love her”—you don’t know
What those three small words mean! Say, loving her
Lowers me down the bloody slope to death
With memories . . . I speak to her, not you,
Who had no pity, will have no remorse,
Perchance intend her . . . Die along with me,
Dear Mildred! ’tis so easy, and you’ll ’scape
So much unkindness! Can I lie at rest,
With rude speech spoken to you, ruder deeds
Done to you?—heartless men shall have my heart,
And I tied down with grave-clothes and the worm,
Aware, perhaps, of every blow—oh God!—
Upon those lips—yet of no power to tear
The felon stripe by stripe! Die, Mildred! Leave
Their honourable world to them! For God
We’re good enough, though the world casts us out.

[A whistle is heard.]

Ho, Gerard!

Enter GERARD, AUSTIN and GUENDOLEN, with lights
                                            No one speak! You see what’s done.
I cannot bear another voice.

                                        There’s light—
Light all about me, and I move to it.
Tresham, did I not tell you—did you not
Just promise to deliver words of mine
To Mildred?

        I will bear those words to her.


                Now. Lift you the body, and leave me
The head.

[As they have half raised MERTOUN, he turns suddenly.]

I knew they turned me: turn me not from her!
There! stay you! there!                [Dies.]

    GUENDOLEN [after a pause].
Austin, remain you here
With Thorold until Gerard comes with help:
Then lead him to his chamber. I must go
To Mildred.

Guendolen, I hear each word
You utter. Did you hear him bid me give
His message? Did you hear my promise? I,
And only I, see Mildred.

                                She will die.

Oh no, she will not die! I dare not hope
She’ll die. What ground have you to think she’ll die?
Why, Austin’s with you!

                                Had we but arrived
Before you fought!

                        There was no fight at all.
He let me slaughter him—the boy! I’ll trust
The body there to you and Gerard—thus!
Now bear him on before me.

                                        Whither bear him?

Oh, to my chamber! When we meet there next,
We shall be friends.

[They bear out the body of MERTOUN.]
                                        Will she die, Guendolen?

Where are you taking me?

                                                        He fell just here.
Now answer me. Shall you in your whole life
—You who have nought to do with Mertoun’s fate,
Now you have seen his breast upon the turf,
Shall you e’er walk this way if you can help?
When you and Austin wander arm-in-arm
Through our ancestral grounds, will not a shade
Be ever on the meadow and the waste—
Another kind of shade than when the night
Shuts the woodside with all its whispers up?
But will you ever so forget his breast
As carelessly to cross this bloody turf
Under the black yew avenue? That’s well!
You turn your head: and I then?—

                                                What is done
Is done. My care is for the living. Thorold,
Bear up against this burden: more remains
To set the neck to!

                        Dear and ancient trees
My fathers planted, and I loved so well!
What have I done that, like some fabled crime
Of yore, lets loose a Fury leading thus
Her miserable dance amidst you all?
Oh, never more for me shall winds intone
With all your tops a vast antiphony,
Demanding and responding in God’s praise!
Hers ye are now, not mine! Farewell—farewell!

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

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