A Series of Plays in which it is attempted to delineate The Stronger Passions of the Mind, Volume One/Count Basil Act 5
ACT V.— SCENE I.
A dark night; no moon, but a few stars glimmering; the stage represents (as much as can be discovered for the darkness) a church-yard with part of a chapel, and a wing of the ducal palace adjoining to it. Enter Basil, with his hat off, his hair and his dress in disorder, stepping slowly, and stopping several times to listen, as if he was afraid of meeting any one.
Bas. No sound is here; man is at rest, and I
May near his habitations venture forth,
Like some unblessed creature of the night,
Who dares not meet his face.—Her window's dark;
No streaming light doth from her chamber beam,
That I once more may on her dwelling gaze,
And bless her still. All now is dark for me!
(Pauses for some time, and looks upon the graves)
How happy are the dead, who quietly rest
Beneath these stones! each by his kindred laid,
Still in a hallow'd neighbourship with those,
Who when alive his social converse shar'd:
And now, perhaps, some dear surviving friend,
Doth here at times the grateful visit pay,
Read with sad eyes his short memorial o'er,
And bless his mem'ry still!—
But I, like a vile outcast of my kind,
In some lone spot must lay my unburied corse,
To rot above the earth; where, if perchance
The steps of human wand'rer e'er approach,
He'll stand aghast, and flee the horrid place,
With dark imaginations frightful made,
The haunt of damned sprites. O! cursed wretch!
I' the fair and honour'd field shouldst thou have died,
Where brave friends, proudly smiling thro' their tears,
Had pointed out the spot where Basil lay!
(A light seen in Victoria's window.)
But ha! the wonted, welcome light appears.
How bright within I see her chamber wall,
Athwart it too, a dark'ning shadow moves,
A slender woman's form; it is herself!
What means that motion of its clasped hands?
That drooping head? alas! is she in sorrow?
Alas! thou sweet enchantress of the mind,
Whose voice was gladness, and whose presence bliss,
Art thou unhappy too? I've brought thee woe;
It is for me thou weep'st! Ah! were it so,
Fall'n as I am, I yet could life endure,
In some dark den from human sight conceal'd,
So, that I sometimes from my haunt might steal,
To see and love thee still. No, no, poor wretch!
She weeps thy shame, she weeps, and scorns thee too.
She moves again; e'en darkly imag'd thus,
How lovely is that form!
(Pauses, still looking at the window.)
To be so near thee, and for ever parted!
For ever lost! what art thou now to me?
Shall the departed gaze on thee again?
Shall I glide past thee in the midnight hour,
Whilst thou perceiv'st it not, and thinkst perhaps
'Tis but the mournful breeze that passes by?
(Pauses again, and gazes at the window, till the light disappears.)
The last impression of her heavenly form!
The last sight of those walls wherein she lives,
The last blest ray of light from human dwelling!
I am no more a being of this world,
Farewell! farewell! all now is dark for me!
Come fated deed! come horrour and despair!
Here lies my dreadful way.
Enter Geoffry, from behind a tomb.
Geof. O! stay, my general!
Bas.What art thou, from the grave?
Geof. O! my brave gen'ral! do you know me not?
I am old Geoffry, the old maimed soldier
You did so nobly honour.
Bas. Then go thy way, for thou art honourable;
Thou hast no shame, thou needst not seek the dark
Like fallen, fameless men. I pray thee go!
Geof. Nay, speak not thus, my noble general!
Ah! speak not thus! thou'rt brave, thou'rt honour'd still.
Thy soldier's fame is far too surely rais'd
To be o'erthrown with one unhappy chance.
I've heard of thy brave deeds with swelling heart,
And yet shall live to cast my cap in air
At glorious tales of thee—
Bas. Forbear, forbear! thy words but wring my soul.
Geof. O! pardon me! I am old maimed Geoffry.
O! do not go! I've but one hand to hold thee.
(Laying hold of Basil as he attempts to go away. Basil stops, and looks round upon him with softness.)
Bas. Two would not hold so well, old honour'd vet'ran!
What wouldst thou have me do?
Geof. Return, my lord, for love of blessed heaven,
Seek not such desp'rate ways! where would you go?
Bas. Does Geoffry ask? where should a soldier go?
To hide disgrace? there is no place but one.
(Struggling to get free.)
Let go thy foolish hold, and force me not
To do some violence to thy hoary head—
What, wilt thou not? nay, then it must be so:
(Breaks violently from him, and Exit.)
Geof. Curs'd, feeble hand! he's gone to seek perdition!
I cannot run. O! curse that stupid hand,
He should have met me here! holla, Fernando!
We've lost him, he is gone! he's broke from me!
Did I not bid thee meet me early here,
For that he has been known to haunt this place?
Fer. Which way has he gone?
Geof. Towards the forest, if I guess it right;
But do thou 'run with speed to Rosinberg,
And he will follow him: run swiftly, man!
A Wood, wild and savage; an entry to a cave, very much tangled with brushwood, is seen in the background. The time represents the dawn of morning. Basil is discovered standing near the front of the stage in a thoughtful posture, with a couple of pistols laid by him, on a piece of projecting rock; he pauses for some time.
Bas. alone. What shall I be a few short moments hence?
Why ask I now? who from the dead will rise
To tell me of that awful state unknown?
But be it what it may, or bliss, or torment,
Annihilation, dark and endless rest,
Or some dread thing, man's wildest range of thought
Hath never yet conceiv'd, that change I'll dare
Which makes me any thing but what I am.
I can bear scorpions' stings, tread fields of fire,
In frozen gulphs of cold eternal lie;
Be toss'd aloft through tracks of endless void,
But cannot live in shame—(Pauses.) O! impious thought!
Will the great God of mercy, mercy have
On all but those who are most miserable?
Will he not punish with a pitying hand
The poor fall'n, froward child? (Pauses.)
And shall I then against his will offend,
Because he is most good and merciful?
O! horrid baseness! what, what shall I do?
I'll think no more—it turns my dizzy brain—
It is too late to think—what must be, must be—
I cannot live, therefore I needs must die.
(Takes up the pistols, and walks up and down, looking wildly around him, then discovering the cave's mouth.)
Where an uncoffin'd corse may rest in peace,
And hide its foul corruption from the earth.
The threshold is unmark'd by mortal foot,
I'll do it here.
(Enters the cave and Exit: a deep silence; then the report of a pistol is heard from the cave, and soon after, Enter Rosinberg, Valtomer, two Officers and Soldiers, almost at the same moment, by different sides of the stage.)
Ros. This way the sound did come.
Valt. How came ye, soldiers? heard ye that report?
1st Sol. We heard it, and it seem'd to come from hence,
Which made us this way hie.
Ros. A horrid fancy darts across my mind.
(A groan heard from the cave.)
(to Valt.) Ha! heardst thou that?
Valt. Methinks it is the groan of one in pain.
(A second groan.)
Ros. Ha! there again!
Valt. From this cave's mouth, so dark and choak'd with weeds,
It seems to come.
Ros.I'll enter first.
1st Off. My Lord, the way is tangled o'er with briers;
Hard by, a few short paces to the left,
There is another mouth of easier access;
I pass'd it even now.
Ros. Then shew the way.[Exeunt.
The Inside of the Cave; Basil discovered lying on the ground, with his head raised a little upon a few stones and earth; the pistols lying beside him, and blood upon his breast. Enter Rosinberg, Valtomer, and Officers. Rosinberg, upon seeing Basil, stops short with horrour, and remains motionless for some time.
Valt. Great God of heav'n! what a sight is this?
(Rosinberg runs to Basil, and stoops down by his side.)
Ros. O Basil! O my friend! what hast thou done?
Bas. (Covering his face with his hand.) Why art thou come? I thought to die in peace.
Ros. Thou knowst me not—I am thy Rosinberg,
Thy dearest, truest friend, thy loving kinsman;
Thou dost not say to me. Why art thou come?
Bas. Shame knows no kindred; I am fall'n, disgrac'd;
My fame is gone, I cannot look upon thee.
Ros. My Basil, noble spirit! talk not thus!
The greatest mind untoward fate may prove:
Thou art our gen'rous, valiant leader still,
Fall'n as thou art—and yet thou art not fall'n;
Who says thou art, must put his hairness on,
And prove his words in blood.
Bas. Ah Rosinberg! this is no time to boast!
I once had hopes a glorious name to gain;
Too proud of heart, I did too much aspire;
The hour of trial came, and found me wanting.
Talk not of me, but let me be forgotten;—
And O! my friend! something upbraids me here,
(Laying his hand on his breast.)
For that I now remember, how oft-times,
I have usurp'd it o'er thy better worth,
Most vainly teaching where I should have learnt;
But thou wilt pardon me—
Ros. (Taking Basil's hand, and pressing it to his breast.) Rend not my heart in twain! O! talk not thus!
I knew thou wert superiour to myself,
And to all men beside: thou wert my pride;
I paid thee def'rence with a willing heart.
Bas. It was delusion, all delusion, Rosinberg!
I feel my weakness now, I own my pride.
Give me thy hand, my time is near the close;
Do this for me; thou know'st my love, Victoria—
Ros. O! curse that woman! she it is alone,
She has undone us all!
Bas. It doubles unto me the stroke of death
To hear thee name her thus. O! curse her not!
The fault is mine; she's gentle, good and blameless.—
Thou wilt not then my dying wish fulfil?
Ros. I will! I will! what wouldst thou have me do?
Bas. See her when I am gone; be gentle with her,
And tell her that I bless'd her in my death,
E'en in mine agonies I lov'd and bless'd her.
Wilt thou do this?—
Ros.I'll do what thou desir'st.
Bas. I thank thee Rosinberg; my time draws near.
(Raising his head a little and perceiving Officers.)
Is there not some one here? are we alone?
Ros. (making a sign for the Officers to retire) 'Tis but a sentry, to prevent intrusion.
Bas. Thou know'st this desp'rate deed from sacred rights
Hath shut me out; I am unbless'd of men,
And what I am in sight of th' awful God,
I dare not think; when I am gone, my friend,
O! let a good man's prayers to heav'n ascend,
For an offending spirit?—Pray for me.
What thinkst thou? altho' an outcast here,
May not some heavenly mercy still be found?
Ros. Thou wilt find mercy—my beloved Basil—
It cannot be that thou shouldst be rejected.
I will with bended knee—I will implore—
It choaks mine utterance—I will pray for thee—
Bas. This comforts me—thou art a loving friend.
(A noise without.)
Ros. (to Off, without.) What noise is that?
Valt. to Ros. My lord, the soldiers all insist to enter.
What shall I do? they will not be denied:
They say that they will see their noble gen'ral.
Bas. Ah, my brave fellows! do they call me so?
Ros. Then let them come.
(Enter soldiers, who gather round Basil, and look mournfully upon him; he holds out his hand to them with a faint smile.)
Bas. My gen'rous soldiers, this is kindly meant.
I'm low i'the dust; God bless you all, brave hearts!
1st Sol. And God bless you, my noble, noble gen'ral!
We'll never follow such a leader more.
2d Sol. Ah! had you staid with us, my noble gen'ral,
We would have died for you.
(3d Soldier endeavours next to speak, but cannot; and kneeling down by Basil, covers his face with his cloak. Rosinberg turns his face to the wall and weeps.)
Bas. (In a very faint, broken voice.) Where art thou?—do not leave me, Rosinberg—
Come near to me—these fellows make me weep—
I have no power to weep—give me thy hand—
I love to feel thy grasp—my heartbeats strangely—
It beats as tho' its breathings would be few—
Ros. Is there aught thou wouldst desire?
Bas. Nought but a little earth to cover me,
And lay the smooth sod even with the ground—
Let no stone mark the spot—give no offence
I fain would say—what can I say to thee?
(A deep pause; after a feeble struggle, Basil expires.)
1st Sol. That motion was his last.
2d Sol.His spirit's fled.
1st Sol. God grant it peace! it was a noble spirit!
4th Sol. The trumpet's sound did never rouse a braver.
1st Sol. Alas! no trumpet e'er shall rouse him more.
Until the dreadful blast that wakes the dead;
2d Sol. And when that sounds it will not wake a braver.
3d Sol. How pleasantly he shar'd our hardest toil;
Our coarsest food the daintiest fare he made.
4th Sol. Ay, many a time i'the cold damp plains has he
With cheerful count'nance cried, good rest my hearts!
Then wrapp'd him in his cloak, and laid him down
E'en like the meanest soldier in the field.
(Rosinberg all this time continues hanging over the body, and gazing upon it. Valtomer now endeavours to draw him away.)
Valt. This is too sad, my lord.
Ros. There, seest thou how he lies? so fix'd, so pale?
Ah! what an end is this! thus lost! thus fall'n!
To be thus taken in his middle course,
Where he so nobly strove; till cursed passion
Came like a sun-stroke on his mid-day toil,
And cut the strong man down. O Basil! Basil!
Valt. Forbear, my friend, we must not sorrow here.
Ros. He was the younger brother of my soul.
Valt. Indeed, my lord, it is too sad a sight.
Time calls us, let the body be remov'd.
Ros. He was—O! he was like no other man!
Valt. (Still endeavouring to draw him away.)
Nay now forbear.
Ros.I lov'd him from his birth!
Valt. Time presses, let the body be remov'd.
Ros. What sayst thou?
Valt.Shall we not remove him hence?
Ros. He has forbid it, and has charg'd me well
To leave his grave unknown; for that the church
All sacred rights to the self-slain denies.
He would not give offence.
1st Sol. What! shall our gen'ral, like a very wretch,
Be laid unhonour'd in the common ground?
No last salute to bid his soul farewell?
No warlike honours paid? it shall not be.
2d Sol. Laid thus? no, by the blessed light of heav'n!
In the most holy spot in Mantua's walls,
He shall be laid; in face of day be laid;
And tho' black priests should curse us in the teeth,
We will fire o'er him whilst our hands have power
To grasp a musket.
Several soldiers. Let those who dare forbid it.
Ros. My brave companions, be it as you will.
(Spreading out his arms as if he would embrace the soldiers.—They prepare to remove the body.)
Valt. Nay, stop a while, we will not move it now,
For see a mournful visitor appears,
And must not be denied.
Enter Victoria and Isabella.
Vict. I thought to find him here, where has he fled?
(Rosinberg points to the body without speaking; Victoria shrieks out, and falls into the arms of Isabella.)
Isab. Ah, my sweet gentle mistress! this will kill thee.
Vict. (recovering,) Unloose thy hold, and let me look upon him.
O! horrid, horrid sight! my ruin'd Basil!
Is this the sad reward of all thy love?
O! I have murder'd thee!
(Kneels down by the body, and bends over it.)
These wasted streams of life! this bloody wound!
(Laying her hand upon his heart.)
Is there no breathing here? all still! all cold!
Open thine eyes, speak, be thyself again,
And I will love thee, serve thee, follow thee,
In spite of all reproach. Alas! alas!
A lifeless corse art thou for ever laid,
And dost not hear my call—
Ros. No, madam; now your pity comes too late.
Vict. Dost thou upbraid me? O! I have deserv'd it?
Ros. No, madam, no, I will not now upbraid;
But woman's grief is like a summer storm,
Short as it violent is, in gayer scenes,
Where soon thou shalt in giddy circles blaze,
And play the airy goddess of the day,
Thine eye, perchance, amidst the observing crowd,
Shall mark th' indignant face of Basil's friend,
And then it will upbraid.
Vict. No, never, never? thus it shall not be.
To the dark, shaded cloister wilt thou go,
Where sad and lonely, thro' the dismal grate
Thou'lt spy my wasted form, and then upbraid me.
Ros. Forgive me, heed me not; I'm griev'd at heart;
I'm fretted, gall'd, all things are hateful to me.
If thou didst love my friend, I will forgive thee;
I must forgive thee; with his dying breath
He bade me tell thee, that his latest thoughts
Were love to thee; in death he lov'd and blessed thee.
(Victoria goes to throw herself upon the body, but is prevented by Valtomer and Isabella, who support her in their arms, and endeavour to draw her away from it.)
Vict. Oh! force me not away! by his cold corse
Let me lie down and weep. O! Basil, Basil!
The gallant and the brave! how hast thou lov'd me!
If there is any holy kindness in you
(To Isab. and Valt.)
Tear me not hence.
For he lov'd me in thoughtless folly lost,
With all my faults, most worthless of his love;
And I'll love him in the low bed of death,
In horrour and decay.—
Near his lone tomb I'll spend my wretched days
In humble pray'r for his departed spirit:
Cold as his grave shall be my earthy bed,
As dark my cheerless cell. Force me not hence.
I will no go, for grief hath made me strong.
(Struggling to get loose.)
Ros. Do not withhold her, leave her sorrow free.
(They let her go, and she throws herself upon the body in an agony of grief.)
To see her mourn him thus.—Yet I must curse.—
Heav'n's curses light upon her damned father,
Whose crooked policy has wrought this wreck.
Isab. If he has done it, you are well reveng'd,
For his dark plots have been detected all.
Gauriceio, for some int'rest of his own,
His master's secret dealings with the foe
Has to Lanoy betray'd; who straight hath sent,
On the behalf of his imperial lord,
A message full of dreadful threats to Mantua.
His discontented subjects aid him not;
He must submit to the degrading terms
A haughty conq'ring power will now impose.
Ros. And art thou sure of this?
Isab.I am, my lord,
Ros. Give me thy hand. I'm glad on't, O! I'm glad on't!
It should be so! how like a hateful ape
Detected, grinning 'midst his pilfer'd hoard
A cunning man appears, whose secret frauds
Are open'd to the day! scorn'd, hooted, mock'd!
Scorn d by the very fools who most admir'd
His worthless art. But when a great mind falls,
The noble nature of man's gen'rous heart
Doth bear him up against the shame of ruin;
With gentle censure using but his faults
As modest means to introduce his praise;
For pity like a dewy twilight comes
To close th' oppressive splendour of his day;
And they who but admir'd him in his height,
His alter'd state lament, and love him fall'n.
END OF COUNT BASIL.