An interval of thirty years.
SCENE I. In London. Dipsychus in his Study.
Dipsychus. O God! O God! and must I still go on
Doing this work I know not, hell’s or thine;
And these rewards receiving sure not thine;
The adulation of a foolish crowd,
Half foolish and half greedy; upright judge
Lawyer acute the Mansfield and the Hale
In one united to bless modern Courts.
O God! O God! According to the law,
With solemn face to solemn sentence fit,
Doing the justice that is but half just;
Punishing wrong that is not truly wrong!
Administering, alas, God! not Thy law.
(Knock at the door.)
What? Is the hour already for the Court?
Come in. Now, Lord Chief justice, to thy work.
(Enter a Servant.)
Serv. My lord, a woman begging to be seen.
Di A woman begging to be seen? What’s this?
’Tis not the duty of your post, my friend,
To give admittance on the busy days
Of a hard labourer in this great world
To all poor creatures begging to be seen.
Something unusual in it? Bid her wait
In the room below, I’ll see her as I pass.
Is the horse there?
Serv. He’s coming round, my lord.
Di Say I will see her as I pass. (Exit Servant.)
I have but one way left; but that one way,
On which once entered, there is no return;
And as there’s no return, no looking back,
Amidst the smoky tumult of this field
Whereon, enlisted once, in arms we stand,
Nor know, nor e’en remotely can divine
The sense, or purport, or the probable end,
One only guide to our blind work we keep,
To obey orders, and to fight it out.
Some hapless sad petitioner, no doubt,
With the true plaintiveness of real distress,
Twisting her misery to a marketable lie,
To waste my close-shorn interval of rest.
She came upon me in my weaker thoughts,
Those weaker thoughts that still indeed recur,
But come, my servants, at a word to go.
What is it? what have you to say to me?
Who are you?
Wom. Once you knew me well enough.
Di Oh, you! I had been told that you were dead.
Wom. So your creatures said;
But I shall live, I think, till you die too.
Di What do you want? Money, subsistence, bread?
Wom. I wanted bread, money, all things, ’Tis true,
But wanted, above all things, to see you.
Di This cannot be. What has been done is o’er.
You have no claim or right against me more;
I have dealt justly with you to the uttermost.
Wom. I did not come to say you were unjust
I came to see you only.
Di Hear me now.
Remember, it was not the marriage vow,
Nor promise e’er of chaste fidelity,
That joined us thirty years ago in a tie
Which I, I think, scarce sought. It was not I
That took your innocence; you spoiled me of mine.
And yet, as though the vow had been divine,
Was I not faithful? Were you so to me?
Had you been white in spotless purity,
Could I have clung to you more faithfully?
I left you, after wrongs I blush with shame
E’en now through all my fifty years to name.
I left you; yet I stinted still my ease,
Curtailed my pleasures toil still extra toil,
To repay you for what you never gave.
Is it not true?
Wom. Go on, say all and more.
Upon this body, as the basis, lies
The ladder that has raised you to the skies.
Di Is that so much? am I indeed so high?
Am I not rather
The slave and servant of the wretched world,
Liveried and finely dressed yet all the same
A menial and lacquey seeking place
For hire, and for his hire’s sake doing work?
Wom. I do not know; you have wife and child, I know
Domestic comfort and a noble name,
And people speak in my ears too your praise.
O man, O man! do you not know in your heart
It was for this you came to me
It was for this I took you to my breast?
O man, man, man!
You come to us with your dalliance in the street,
You pay us with your miserable gold,
You do not know how in the
Di (looks at his watch). You must go now. Justice calls me elsewhere;
Justice might keep you here.
You may return again; stay, let me see
Six weeks to-morrow you shall see me again;
Now you must go. Do you need money? here,
It is your due: take it, that you may live;
And see me, six weeks from to-morrow, elsewhere.
Wom. I will not go;
You must stay here and hear me, or I shall die!
It were ill for you that I should.
Di What! shall the nation wait?
Woman, if I have wronged you, it was for good
Good has come of it. Lo, I have done some work.
Over the blasted and the blackened spot
Of our unhappy and unhallowed deed
I have raised a mausoleum of such acts
As in this world do honour unto me,
But in the next to thee.
Wom. Hear me, I cannot go!
Di It cannot be; the court, the nation waits.
Is not the work, too, yours?
Wom. I go, to die this night
Di I cannot help it. Duty lies here. Depart!
Wom. Listen; before I die, one word! In old times
You called me Pleasure my name now is Guilt.
SCENE II. In Westminster Hall.
1st Barrister. They say the Lord Chief justice is unwell;
Did you observe how, after that decision
Which all the world admired so, suddenly
He became pale and looked in the air and staggered,
As if some phantom floated on his eyes?
He is a strange man.
Bar. 2. He is unwell, there is no doubt of that,
But why or how is quite another question.
It is odd to find so stern and strong a man
Give way before he’s sixty. Many a mind,
Apparently less vigorous than his,
Has kept its full judicial faculty,
And sat the woolsack past threescore and ten.
Bar. 3. No business to be done to-day. Have you heard
The Chief justice is lying dangerously ill?
Apoplexy, paralysis, Heaven knows what some seizure.
Bar. 1. Heavens! that will be a loss indeed!
Bar. 2. A loss
Which will be some one’s gain, however.
Bar. 1. Not the nation’s,
If this sage Chancellor give it to .
But is he really sure to die, do you think?
Bar. 3. A very sudden and very alarming attack.
And now you know to the full as much as I,
Or, as I fancy, any lawyer here.
Bar. 2. Do you know anything of his early life?
Bar. 1. My father knew him at college: a reading man,
The quietest of the quiet, shy and timid.
And college honours past,
No one believed he ever would do anything.
Bar. 2. He was a moral sort of prig, I’ve heard,
Till he was twenty-five; and even then
He never entered into life as most men.
That is the reason why he fails so soon.
It takes high feeding and a well-taught conscience
To breed your mighty hero of the law.
So much the worse for him; so much the better
For all expectants now.
Bar. 3. For, for one.
Bar. 2. Well, there’ll be several changes, as I think.
Not that I think the shock of new promotion
Will vibrate quite perceptibly down here.
There was a story that I once was told,
Some woman that they used to tease him with.
Bar. 1. He grew too stern for teasing before long;
A man with greater power of what I think
They call, in some new sense of the word, Repulsion,
I think I never saw in all my life.
Bar. 2. A most forbidding man in private life,
I’ve always heard. What’s this new news?
Bar. 4. The Lord Chief justice has resigned.
Bar. 1, 2, 3. Is it true?
Really? Quite certain?
Bar. 4. Publicly announced.
You’re quite behind. Most probably ere this
The Times has got it in a new edition.
SCENE III. Dippsychus in his own house, alone.
Di She will come yet, I think, although she said
She would go hence and die; I cannot tell.
Should I have made the nation’s business wait,
That I might listen to an old sad tale
Uselessly iterated? Ah ah me!
I am grown weak indeed; those old black thoughts
No more as servants at my bidding go,
But as stern tyrants look me in the face,
And mock my reason’s inefficient hand
That sways to wave them hence.
Serv. You rung, my lord?
Di Come here, my friend. The woman,
A beggar-woman, whom six weeks ago,
As you remember, you admitted to me,
You may admit again if she returns. [Exit Servant.
Will she return? or did she die? I searched
Newspaper columns through to find a trace
Of some poor corpse discovered in the Thames,
Weltering in filth or stranded on the shoals.
‘You called me Pleasure once, I now am Guilt.’
Is that her voice?
‘Once Pleasure and now Guilt and after this
Guilt evermore.’ I hear her voice again.
Once Guilt, but now’ I know not what it says
Some word in some strange language, that my ears
Have never heard, yet seem to long to know.
‘Once Pleasure and now Guilt, and after this’
What does she say? . . . .
This work was published before January 1, 1923, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.