A Blot in the ’Scutcheon


Scene II

Robert Browning



He comes not! I have heard of those who seemed
Resourceless in prosperity,—you thought
Sorrow might slay them when she listed; yet
Did they so gather up their diffused strength
At her first menace, that they bade her strike,
And stood and laughed her subtlest skill to scorn.
Oh, ’tis not so with me! The first woe fell,
And the rest fall upon it, not on me:
Else should I bear that Henry comes not?—fails
Just this first night out of so many nights?
Loving is done with. Were he sitting now,
As so few hours since, on that seat, we’d love
No more—contrive no thousand happy ways
To hide love from the loveless, any more.
I think I might have urged some little point
In my defence, to Thorold; he was breathless
For the least hint of a defence: but no,
The first shame over, all that would might fall.
No Henry! Yet I merely sit and think
The morn’s deed o’er and o’er. I must have crept
Out of myself. A Mildred that has lost
Her lover—oh, I dare not look upon
Such woe! I crouch away from it! ’Tis she,
Mildred, will break her heart, not I! The world
Forsakes me: only Henry’s left me—left?
When I have lost him, for he does not come,
And I sit stupidly . . . Oh Heaven, break up
This worse than anguish, this mad apathy,
By any means or any messenger!

    TRESHAM [without].

                                        Come in! Heaven hears me!

[Enter TRESHAM.]
                                                           You? alone?
Oh, no more cursing!

                        Mildred, I must sit.
There—you sit!

                Say it, Thorold—do not look
The curse! deliver all you come to say!
What must become of me? Oh, speak that thought
Which makes your brow and cheeks so pale!

                                                           My thought?

All of it!

                        How we waded years—ago—
After those water-lilies, till the plash,
I know not how, surprised us; and you dared
Neither advance nor turn back: so, we stood
Laughing and crying until Gerard came—
Once safe upon the turf, the loudest too,
For once more reaching the relinquished prize!
How idle thoughts are, some men’s, dying men’s!

You call me kindlier by my name
Than even yesterday: what is in that?

It weighs so much upon my mind that I
This morning took an office not my own!
I might . . . of course, I must be glad or grieved,
Content or not, at every little thing
That touches you. I may with a wrung heart
Even reprove you, Mildred; I did more:
Will you forgive me?

                        Thorold? do you mock?
Oh no . . . and yet you bid me . . . say that word!

Forgive me, Mildred!—are you silent, Sweet?

    MILDRED [starting up].
Why does not Henry Mertoun come to-night?
Are you, too, silent?

[Dashing his mantle aside, and pointing to his scabbard, which is empty.]
                                            Ah, this speaks for you!
You’ve murdered Henry Mertoun! Now proceed!
What is it I must pardon? This and all?
Well, I do pardon you—I think I do.
Thorold, how very wretched you must be!

He bade me tell you . . . 

                                                What I do forbid
Your utterance of! So much that you may tell
And will not—how you murdered him . . . but, no!
You’ll tell me that he loved me, never more
Than bleeding out his life there: must I say
“Indeed,” to that? Enough! I pardon you.

You cannot, Mildred! for the harsh words, yes:
Of this last deed Another’s judge: whose doom
I wait in doubt, despondency and fear.

Oh, true! There’s nought for me to pardon! True!
You loose my soul of all its cares at once.
Death makes me sure of him for ever! You
Tell me his last words? He shall tell me them,
And take my answer—not in words, but reading
Himself the heart I had to read him late,
Which death . . . 

                Death? You are dying too? Well said
Of Guendolen! I dared not hope you’d die:
But she was sure of it.

                                Tell Guendolen
I loved her, and tell Austin . . . 

                                                Him you loved:
And me?

Ah, Thorold! Was’t not rashly done
To quench that blood, on fire with youth and hope
And love of me—whom you loved too, and yet
Suffered to sit here waiting his approach
While you were slaying him? Oh, doubtlessly
You let him speak his poor confused boy’s-speech
—Do his poor utmost to disarm your wrath
And respite me!—you let him try to give
The story of our love and ignorance,
And the brief madness and the long despair—
You let him plead all this, because your code
Of honour bids you hear before you strike:
But at the end, as he looked up for life
Into your eyes—you struck him down!

                                                        No! No!
Had I but heard him—had I let him speak
Half the truth—less—had I looked long on him
I had desisted! Why, as he lay there,
The moon on his flushed cheek, I gathered all
The story ere he told it: I saw through
The troubled surface of his crime and yours
A depth of purity immovable,
Had I but glanced, where all seemed turbidest
Had gleamed some inlet to the calm beneath;
I would not glance: my punishment’s at hand.
There, Mildred, is the truth! and you—say on—
You curse me?

            As I dare approach that Heaven
Which has not bade a living thing despair,
Which needs no code to keep its grace from stain,
But bids the vilest worm that turns on it
Desist and be forgiven,—I—forgive not,
But bless you, Thorold, from my soul of souls!

[Falls on his neck.]
There! Do not think too much upon the past!
The cloud that’s broke was all the same a cloud
While it stood up between my friend and you;
You hurt him ’neath its shadow: but is that
So past retrieve? I have his heart, you know;
I may dispose of it: I give it you!
It loves you as mine loves! Confirm me, Henry!

I wish thee joy, Beloved! I am glad
In thy full gladness!

    GUENDOLEN [without].
Mildred! Tresham!

[Entering with AUSTIN.]
I could desist no longer. Ah, she swoons!
That’s well.

            Oh, better far than that!

                                                                She’s dead!
Let me unlock her arms!

                                She threw them thus
About my neck, and blessed me, and then died:
You’ll let them stay now, Guendolen!

                                                            Leave her
And look to him! What ails you, Thorold?

As she, and whiter! Austin! quick—this side!

A froth is oozing through his clenched teeth;
Both lips, where they’re not bitten through, are black:
Speak, dearest Thorold!

Something does weigh down
My neck beside her weight: thanks: I should fall
But for you, Austin, I believe!—there, there,
’Twill pass away soon!—ah,—I had forgotten:
I am dying.

Thorold—Thorold—why was this?

I said, just as I drank the poison off,
The earth would be no longer earth to me,
The life out of all life was gone from me.
There are blind ways provided, the fore-done
Heart-weary player in this pageant-world
Drops out by, letting the main masque defile
By the conspicuous portal: I am through—
Just through!

Don’t leave him, Austin! Death is close.

Already Mildred’s face is peacefuller,
I see you, Austin—feel you; here’s my hand,
Put yours in it—you, Guendolen, yours too!
You’re lord and lady now—you’re Treshams; name
And fame are yours: you hold our ’scutcheon up.
Austin, no blot on it! You see how blood
Must wash one blot away: the first blot came
And the first blood came. To the vain world’s eye
All’s gules again: no care to the vain world,
From whence the red was drawn!

No blot shall come!

I said that: yet it did come. Should it come,
Vengeance is God’s, not man’s. Remember me!


    GUENDOLEN [letting fall the pulseless arm].
Ah, Thorold, we can but—remember you!


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