Read ACT IV: SCENE II of Representative Plays by American Dramatists: 1856-1911: Francesca da Rimini, free online book, by George Henry Boker, on ReadCentral.com.

The Same. A Chamber in the Same. FRANCESCA and RITTA discovered at the bridal toilet.

RITTA. [Sings.]
Ring high, ring high! to earth and sky;
A lady goes a-wedding;
The people shout, the show draws out,
And smiles the bride is shedding.

No bell for you, ye ragged few;
A beggar goes a-wedding;
The people sneer, the thing’s so queer,
And tears the bride is shedding.

Ring low, ring low! dull bell of woe,
One tone will do for either;
The lady glad, and beggar sad,
Have both lain down together.

FRANCESCA. A mournful ballad!

RITTA. I scarce knew I sang.
I’m weary of this wreath. These orange-flowers
Will never be adjusted to my taste:
Strive as I will, they ever look awry.
My fingers ache!

FRANCESCA. Not more than my poor head.
There, leave them so.

RITTA. That’s better, yet not well.

FRANCESCA. They are but fading things, not worth your pains:
They’ll scarce outlive the marriage merriment.
Ritta, these flowers are hypocrites; they show
An outside gayety, yet die within,
Minute by minute. You shall see them fall,
Black with decay, before the rites are o’er.

RITTA. How beautiful you are!

FRANCESCA. Fie, flatterer!
White silk and laces, pearls and orange-flowers,
Would do as much for any one.

RITTA. No, no!
You give them grace, they nothing give to you.
Why, after all, you make the wreath look well;
But somewhat dingy, where it lies against
Your pulsing temple, sullen with disgrace.
Ah! well, your Count should be the proudest man
That ever led a lady into church,
Were he a modern Alexander. Poh!
What are his trophies to a face like that?

FRANCESCA. I seem to please you, Ritta.

RITTA. Please yourself,
And you will please me better. You are sad:
I marked it ever since you saw the Count.
I fear the splendour of his victories,
And his sweet grace of manner for, in faith,
His is the gentlest, grandest character,
Despite his

FRANCESCA. Well?

RITTA. Despite his

FRANCESCA. Ritta, what?

RITTA. Despite his difference from Count Paolo.
[FRANCESCA staggers.]
What is the matter? [Supporting her.

FRANCESCA. Nothing; mere fatigue.
Hand me my kerchief. I am better now.
What were you saying?

RITTA. That I fear the Count
Has won your love.

FRANCESCA. Would that be cause for fear?
[Laughing.

RITTA. O! yes, indeed! Once long ago I was
Just fool enough to tangle up my heart
With one of these same men. ’Twas terrible!
Morning or evening, waking or asleep,
I had no peace. Sighs, groans, and standing tears,
Counted my moments through the blessed day.
And then to this there was a dull, strange ache
Forever sleeping in my breast, a numbing pain,
That would not for an instant be forgot.
O! but I loved him so, that very feeling
Became intolerable. And I believed
This false Giuseppe, too, for all the sneers,
The shrugs and glances, of my intimates.
They slandered me and him, yet I believed.
He was a noble, and his love to me
Was a reproach, a shame, yet I believed.
He wearied of me, tried to shake me off,
Grew cold and formal, yet I would not doubt.
O! lady, I was true! Nor till I saw
Giuseppe walk through the cathedral door
With Dora, the rich usurer’s niece, upon
The very arm to which I clung so oft,
Did I so much as doubt him. Even then
More is my shame I made excuses for him.
“Just this or that had forced him to the course:
Perhaps, he loved me yet a little yet.
His fortune, or his family, had driven
My poor Giuseppe thus against his heart.
The low are sorry judges for the great.
Yes, yes, Giuseppe loved me!” But at last
I did awake. It might have been with less:
There was no need of crushing me, to break
My silly dream up. In the street, it chanced,
Dora and he went by me, and he laughed
A bold, bad laugh right in my poor pale face,
And turned and whispered Dora, and she laughed.
Ah! then I saw it all. I’ve been awake,
Ever since then, I warrant you. And now
I only pray for him sometimes, when friends
Tell his base actions towards his hapless wife.
O! I am lying I pray every night! [Weeps.

FRANCESCA. Poor Ritta. [Weeping.

RITTA. No! blest Ritta! Thank kind heaven,
That kept me spotless when he tempted me,
And my weak heart was pleading with his tongue.
Pray, do not weep. You spoil your eyes for me.
But never love; O! it is terrible!

FRANCESCA. I’ll strive against it.

RITTA. Do: because, my lady,
Even a husband may be false, you know;
Ay, even to so sweet a wife as you.
Men have odd tastes. They’ll surfeit on the charms
Of Cleopatra, and then turn aside
To woo her blackamoor. ’Tis so, in faith;
Or Dora’s uncle’s gold had ne’er outbid
The boundless measure of a love like mine.
Think of it, lady, to weigh love with gold!
What could be meaner?

FRANCESCA. Nothing, nothing, Ritta.
Though gold’s the standard measure of the world,
And seems to lighten everything beside.
Yet heap the other passions in the scale,
And balance them ’gainst that which gold outweighs
Against this love and you shall see how light
The most supreme of them are in the poise!
I speak by book and history; for love
Slights my high fortunes. Under cloth of state
The urchin cowers from pompous etiquette,
Waiving his function at the scowl of power,
And seeks the rustic cot to stretch his limbs
In homely freedom. I fulfil a doom.
We who are topmost on this heap of life
Are nearer to heaven’s hand than you below;
And so are used, as ready instruments,
To work its purposes. Let envy hide
Her witless forehead at a prince’s name,
And fix her hopes upon a clown’s content.
You, happy lowly, know not what it is
To groan beneath the crowned yoke of state,
And bear the goadings of the sceptre. Ah!
Fate drives us onward in a narrow way,
Despite our boasted freedom.

[Enter PAOLO, with PAGES bearing torches.]

Gracious saints!
What brought you here?

PAOLO. The bridegroom waits.

FRANCESCA. He does?
Let him wait on forever! I’ll not go!
O! dear Paolo

PAOLO. Sister!

FRANCESCA. It is well.
I have been troubled with a sleepless night.
My brain is wild. I know not what I say.
Pray, do not call me sister: it is cold.
I never had a brother, and the name
Sounds harshly to me. When you speak to me,
Call me Francesca.

PAOLO. You shall be obeyed.

FRANCESCA. I would not be obeyed. I’d have you do it
Because because you love me as a sister
And of your own good-will, not my command,
Would please me. Do you understand?

PAOLO. Too well! [Aside.]
’Tis a nice difference.

FRANCESCA. Yet you understand?
Say that you do.

PAOLO. I do.

FRANCESCA. That pleases me.
’Tis flattering if our friends appreciate
Our nicer feelings.

PAOLO. I await you, lady.

FRANCESCA. Ritta, my gloves. Ah! yes, I have them on;
Though I’m not quite prepared. Arrange my veil;
It folds too closely. That will do; retire. [RITTA retires.]
So, Count Paolo, you have come, hot haste,
To lead me to the church, to have your share
In my undoing? And you came, in sooth,
Because they sent you? You are very tame!
And if they sent, was it for you to come?

PAOLO. Lady, I do not understand this scorn.
I came, as is my duty, to escort
My brother’s bride to him. When next you’re called,
I’ll send a lackey.

FRANCESCA. I have angered you.

PAOLO. With reason: I would not appear to you
Low or contemptible.

FRANCESCA. Why not to me?

PAOLO. Lady, I’ll not be catechized.

FRANCESCA. Ha! Count!

PAOLO. No! if you press me further, I will say
A word to madden you. Stand still! You stray
Around the margin of a precipice.
I know what pleasure ’tis to pluck the flowers
That hang above destruction, and to gaze
Into the dread abyss, to see such things
As may be safely seen. Tis perilous:
The eye grows dizzy as we gaze below,
And a wild wish possesses us to spring
Into the vacant air. Beware, beware!
Lest this unholy fascination grow
Too strong to conquer!

FRANCESCA. You talk wildly, Count;
There’s not a gleam of sense in what you say;
I cannot hit your meaning.

PAOLO. Lady, come!

FRANCESCA. Count, you are cruel! [Weeps.

PAOLO. O! no; I would be kind.
But now, while reason over-rides my heart,
And seeming anger plays its braggart part
In heaven’s name, come!

FRANCESCA. One word one question more:
Is it your wish this marriage should proceed?

PAOLO. It is.

FRANCESCA. Come on! You shall not take my hand:
I’ll walk alone now, and forever!

PAOLO. [Taking her hand.] Sister!

[Exeunt PAOLO and FRANCESCA, with PAGES.

RITTA. O! misery, misery! it is plain as day
She loves Paolo! Why will those I love
Forever get themselves ensnared, and heaven
Forever call on me to succor them?
Here was the mystery, then the sighs and tears,
The troubled slumbers, and the waking dreams!
And now she’s walking through the chapel-door,
Her bridal robe above an aching heart,
Dressed up for sacrifice. Tis terrible!
And yet she’ll smile and do it. Smile, for years,
Until her heart breaks; and the nurses ask
The doctor of the cause. He’ll answer, too,
In hard thick Latin, and believe himself.
O! my dear mistress! Heaven, pray torture me!
Send back Giuseppe, let him ruin me,
And scorn me after; but, sweet heaven, spare her!
I’ll follow her. O! what a world is this! [Exit.