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Next Excerpt Act I, Scene 2



The Obscure Bird


Scene 1

The royal residence of Duke Arnaud.  An informal
meeting room.  Arnaud is whispering something to
Martine; she springs away from him and glares.He
is chagrined by the rebuff but tries to remain jocular.

 Arnaud.  The dear father would with his daughter speak.

 Martine.  The more shame for you, if I were.

 Arnaud.  (Stepping closer to her.)
Diana’s lip is not more smooth and rubious.
      (Halting as Martine backs away.)

I have not from your eyes that gentleness
And show of love as I was wont to have.

 Martine.  (Growing more incensed.)
Despiteful and intolerable wrongs!
Shall I endure this monstrous villainy?

 Arnaud.  Why, look you, how you storm!
I would be friends with you, and have your love.

 Martine.  A shameful cunning—to force that on me.
Have you no manners?  Have you no modesty?

 Arnaud.  Teach not thy lip such scorn, for it was made
For kissing, lady, not for such contempt.
God bless thee; and put meekness in thy breast;
Thou better know’st the dues of gratitude.
What have I done, that thou darst wag thy tongue
In noise so rude against me?

 Martine.  To reiterate were sin as deep as that.
I do condemn mine ears that have so long
Attended thee.  How long shall I be patient?

 Arnaud.  (Suddenly charged with lust.)
My heart beats thicker than a feverous pulse.
O’er my spirit thy full supremacy thou know’st;
I dedicate myself to your sweet pleasure
And will continue fast to your affection.
For your lovely sake, say you will be mine;
Yet shall you have all kindness at my hand
That your estate requires and mine can yield.

 Martine.  How courtesy would seem to cover sin,
When what is done is like an hypocrite.
O Shame, where is thy blush?
Heaven’s face is thought-sick at the act.

 Arnaud.  Rebuke me not for that which you provoke;
The offenses I make you do I’ll answer.

 Martine.  Could such inordinate and low desires,
Such poor, such bare, such lewd, such mean attempts,
Accompany the greatness of thy blood?
If thou wert honorable, thou wouldst not seek
Such an end.  Solicit me no more.

 Arnaud.  If thou grant my need, by my soul I swear
I never more will break an oath with thee.

 Martine.  My lord, I have another oath ’gainst yours,
Of more authority, I am sure more love,
Not made in passion neither, but good heed,
That you would ne’er deny me any thing
Fit for my modest suit, and your free granting:
I tie you to your word now; if you fail in’t,
Think how you maim your honor.

 Extremely agitated, Arnaud grips his head
with both hands.

 Arnaud.  O ye gods, ye gods! must I endure all this?

 Martine.  Shall I be frighted when a madman stares?
Must I stand and crouch under your testy humor?

 Arnaud.  O disloyal thing, that shouldst repair my youth,
Thou heap’st a year’s age on me.
Ingratitude, thou marble-hearted fiend
Will it be ever thus?  Ungracious wretch!

 Martine.  I have trusted thee, sir, but I have been
Deceived; to bide upon’t, thou art not honest.

 Arnaud.  Silence!  Cheque thy contempt: one word more
Shall make me hate thee;
Martine, I loved you, and could still,
But I must tell you, now my thoughts revolt;
Obey my will; believe not thy disdain,
Or I will throw thee from my care for ever;
Both my revenge and hate loosing upon thee,
Without all terms of pity.

 Martine.  (In a low seething monotone.)
Never, never, never, never, never.

 Arnaud.  Avaunt! be gone! thou hast set me on the rack.

  Martine begins to turn and leave but sees Arnaud
gripping his head again.

 Arnaud.  I am exceeding weary; my mind misgives me.
My soul is heavy, and I fain would sleep.

 Martine.  What a sigh is there!

 Arnaud.  O, I have pass’d a miserable night;
I sleep in the affliction of terrible dreams.

 Martine.  Is it come to that?  Thy heart is sorely charged.
Unnatural deeds do breed unnatural troubles,
Infected minds; such madness rules in brainsick men.

 Arnaud.  Is there no way to cure this?
Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased?

 Martine.  Tis known, I ever have studied physic,
And I can speak of the disturbances
That nature works, and of her cures.
Some griefs are med’cinable; that is one of them.

 Arnaud.  ’Tis you that must help me.  Dearest Martine,
Raze out the written troubles of my brain
And with some sweet oblivious antidote
Cleanse the stuff’d bosom of that perilous stuff
Which weighs upon the heart.

 Martine.  You must be purged.

 Arnaud.  Thy sacred physic shall receive such pay
As thy desires can wish.

 Martine.  I am thus bold to put your grace in mind
Of what you promised me: grant my suit;
Keep you your word, O Duke, and that is all.

 Arnaud.  So!  Wicked fiend!  Never without your tricks!
I conjure thee to leave me and be gone!

 Martine.  Then fare you well.  I leave you to your wisdom.
Your dreams will, sure, prove ominous to the day;
No medicine in the world can do thee good:
Not poppy, nor mandragora
Nor all the drowsy syrups of the world,
Shall ever medicine thee to that sweet sleep
Which thou owedst yesterday.
Farewell, faint-hearted and degenerate man,
In whose cold blood no spark of honor bides.

 Exit Martine.  Enter Contessa from the other side.
When Arnaud rants, her responses are bemused
and ironic in the manner of one who has heard
this before.

 Contessa.  Why, how now, Father?

 Arnaud.  Heard you all this?

 Contessa.  (Lying.)  I heard nothing.

 Arnaud.  O miserable, unhappy that I am!
Wicked Martine hath struck me with her tongue,
Most serpent-like, upon the very heart.
        (Gently stroking Contessa’s cheek.)
Dearest chuck.  One only daughter have I
On whom I may confer what I have.
Ay, Contessa, my heart is drown’d with grief,
My mind troubled with deep melancholy;
My body round engirt with misery,
For what’s more miserable than discontent?

 Contessa.  But what’s the matter?

 Arnaud.  I am transform’d into a strumpet’s fool;
That witch, Martine, hast metamorphosed me.
All the stored vengeances of heaven fall
On her ingrateful top.
I would she were dead at my foot.

 Contessa.  Your lordship is not entertained with that
ceremonious affection as you were wont.

 Arnaud.  That she should refuse me!
How bitter a thing it is, Contessa!
I have tremor cordis on me; she hath tied
Sharp-toothed unkindness, like a vulture, here.

 Contessa.  I cannot think Martine in the least
Would fail her obligation.

 Arnaud.  A callat of boundless tongue, who now baits me;
She bears herself more proudlier,
Even to my person, than I thought she would.
I prithee, speak to me as to thy thinkings.

 Contessa.  Then hear me: the terms of our estate
May not endure hazard so near us.
You shall do well to grant her suit
For her husband’s lands; as Martine is now
She will but disease our better mirth;
Take my counsel: leave your griefs; let her alone.

 Arnaud.  In faith, I cannot, nor I will not.

 Contessa.  What is’t, then, Father,
That makes you ask my opinion?

 Arnaud.  (Pausing.)  Your mind is the clearer.

 Contessa.  Would the fountain of your mind were clear again.
We’ll talk when you are better temper’d.

 Arnaud.  (His anger and frustration abating.)
Go not yet! I must not think there are
Evils enow to darken all her goodness:
Her faults in her seem as the spots of heaven,
More fiery by night’s blackness.
Well may you fear too far.

 Contessa.  Safer than trust too far.  No, no, Father,
This milky gentleness and course of yours,
Though I condemn it not, yet, under pardon,
You are much more attasked for want of wisdom
Than praised for harmful mildness.

 Arnaud.  I cannot speak to her.  But you, Tessa—

 Contessa.  Say I do speak with her, then what?

 Arnaud.  There is hope all will be well.

 Contessa.  What should I say?

 Arnaud.  Say that upon the altar of her beauty
I sacrifice my tears, my sighs, my heart;
Then unfold the passion of my love.

 Contessa.  (Shaking her head.)  Something else more plain.

 Arnaud.  Say, if she will take the offer of my grace,
She’ll be my friend again and I’ll be hers.

 Contessa.  Let that suffice.  Yet do I fear your nature:
With every minute you do change your mind.

 Arnaud.  Please, Contessa.  I do beseech you.

 Contessa.  As you wish.  Have Joan bid her come hither.

 Exit Arnaud.  Contessa sits and looks at her
smartphone, unhappy at what she reads there.
Shortly, Martine enters, visibly agitated, and
takes a seat near Contessa.

 Contessa.  Why, say, Martine, what is the matter, trow?

 Martine.  (Wary and skeptical throughout.)
’Tis nothing, Contessa; nothing at all.

 Contessa.  Whate’er it be, tell me.

 Martine.  When I laid my claim to my inheritance,
I read in the duke’s looks matter against me;
And his eye reviled me, as his abject object.

 Contessa.  (Laughingly dismissing this.)
You know the fiery quality of the duke;
His disposition, all the world well knows,
Will not be rubb’d nor stopped.
Sister, do me the courteous office
As to know what your offence to him is;
It must be great that can inherit you
So much as a thought of ill in him.

 Martine.  I am loath to tell you.

 Contessa.  Let us talk in good earnest.  Is it possible,
On such a sudden, you and he should fall
Into so strong a quarrel?

 Martine.  Ay, it is possible enough.

 Contessa.  Sure he misconstrues whatever you have done.

 Martine.  I have done nothing but say “no” to his demand.

 Contessa.  But he is thy lord, thy life, thy sovereign;
Such duty as the subject owes the prince
Even a woman oweth to her father.

 Martine.  Your father.
I know no touch of consanguinity.
And so unnatural a father.

 Contessa.  Indeed.  Yet in this life, men
Are masters to their females, and their lords:
I am ashamed that women are so simple
To offer war where they should kneel for peace,
When they are bound to serve, love, and obey.

 Martine.  Good faith, I wish’d myself a man,
Or that we women had men’s privileges.

 Contessa.  What does my father lay to Martine’s charge?

 Martine.  To perform his bidding, on pain of perpetual
Displeasure.  Nothing more.

 Contessa.  Alack, what heinous sin is it in me
To be ashamed to be my father’s child?
His temper must be well observed;
Chide him for faults, but do it reverently,
When you see his blood inclined to mirth;
With all gracious utterance that thou hast,
Speak to his gentle hearing kind commends;
But, being moody, give him time and scope
Till that his passions, like a whale on ground,
Confound themselves with working.

 Martine.  I never heard a passion so confused.

 Contessa.  What he cannot help in his nature, you
Account a vice in him; rather, impute his words
To wayward sickliness and age in him.
So let your will attend on his accords;
He loves you, on my life, and holds you dear.
I shall observe him with all care and love,
Till he be dieted to my request,
And then I’ll set upon him.  I’ll entreat for thee;
What I can do I will; and more I will
Than for myself I dare.  You must be patient:
Time serves wherein you may restore yourself
Into the good thoughts of the duke again.

 Martine.  I will be patient, if he will grant my suit.

 Contessa.  His eyes must with my judgment look.

 Martine.  (Still warily.)  I thank you, Contessa.  I am in your debt.

 Martine prepares to stand and depart.  Contessa
pauses and regards her.  Martine settles again in
her seat.

 Contessa.  Tarry a little; there is something else;
I beg some private speech with you.

 Martine.  Yes?

 Contessa suddenly kneels in front of Martine, takes
her hands, and holds them in Martine’s lap.

 Contessa.  I durst commend a secret to your ear:
 I am horribly in love with Duplass.

 Martine.  My brother?  These are news indeed!

 Contessa.  I love him beyond love and beyond reason,
Or wit, or safety: I have made him know it.
        (Pulling out her smartphone and shaking it.)
Now he spurns my love.

 Martine.  Why do you speak to me?

 Contessa.  I shall desire your help, Martine;
What shall I do to win Duplass again?

 Martine.  Why do you wring your hands?

 Contessa.  My state is desperate for his love:
I know not how I lost him.  Here I kneel:
If e’er my will did trespass ’gainst his love,
Either in discourse of thought or actual deed,
Or that I do not love him dearly,
Comfort forswear me!  Unkindness may do much;
And his unkindness may defeat my life.
Speak to him, see if you can move him.
Be eloquent in my behalf.

 Martine.  Well, I will see what I can do for you.


Copyright by A. K. Ludwig


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