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A Florentine Tragedy – A Fragment
by [?]

[To Simone]. I think you tire our most gracious guest.
What is the King of France to us? As much
As are your English merchants with their wool.

* * * * *

. Is it so then? Is all this mighty world
Narrowed into the confines of this room
With but three souls for poor inhabitants?
Ay! there are times when the great universe,
Like cloth in some unskilful dyer’s vat,
Shrivels into a handbreadth, and perchance
That time is now! Well! let that time be now.
Let this mean room be as that mighty stage
Whereon kings die, and our ignoble lives
Become the stakes God plays for.

I do not know
Why I speak thus. My ride has wearied me.
And my horse stumbled thrice, which is an omen
That bodes not good to any.

Alas! my lord,
How poor a bargain is this life of man,
And in how mean a market are we sold!
When we are born our mothers weep, but when
We die there is none weeps for us. No, not one.
[Passes to back of stage.]

. How like a common chapman does he speak!
I hate him, soul and body. Cowardice
Has set her pale seal on his brow. His hands
Whiter than poplar leaves in windy springs,
Shake with some palsy; and his stammering mouth
Blurts out a foolish froth of empty words
Like water from a conduit.

. Sweet Bianca,
He is not worthy of your thought or mine.
The man is but a very honest knave
Full of fine phrases for life’s merchandise,
Selling most dear what he must hold most cheap,
A windy brawler in a world of words.
I never met so eloquent a fool.

. Oh, would that Death might take him where he stands!

[turning round]. Who spake of Death? Let no one speak of
What should Death do in such a merry house,
With but a wife, a husband, and a friend
To give it greeting? Let Death go to houses
Where there are vile, adulterous things, chaste wives
Who growing weary of their noble lords
Draw back the curtains of their marriage beds,
And in polluted and dishonoured sheets
Feed some unlawful lust. Ay! ’tis so
Strange, and yet so. YOU do not know the world.
YOU are too single and too honourable.
I know it well. And would it were not so,
But wisdom comes with winters. My hair grows grey,
And youth has left my body. Enough of that.
To-night is ripe for pleasure, and indeed,
I would be merry as beseems a host
Who finds a gracious and unlooked-for guest
Waiting to greet him. [Takes up a lute.]
But what is this, my lord?
Why, you have brought a lute to play to us.
Oh! play, sweet Prince. And, if I am too bold,
Pardon, but play.

. I will not play to-night.
Some other night, Simone.

[To Bianca] You and I
Together, with no listeners but the stars,
Or the more jealous moon.

. Nay, but my lord!
Nay, but I do beseech you. For I have heard
That by the simple fingering of a string,
Or delicate breath breathed along hollowed reeds,
Or blown into cold mouths of cunning bronze,
Those who are curious in this art can draw
Poor souls from prison-houses. I have heard also
How such strange magic lurks within these shells
That at their bidding casements open wide
And Innocence puts vine-leaves in her hair,
And wantons like a maenad. Let that pass.
Your lute I know is chaste. And therefore play:
Ravish my ears with some sweet melody;
My soul is in a prison-house, and needs
Music to cure its madness. Good Bianca,
Entreat our guest to play.