THE DEAD CITY ~ ACT SECOND, SCENE I

A room in the apartment of Leonardo. Along the walls, which are painted a dark red, stand large cases with several shelves, containing the treasures found in the sepulchres of the Agora; the jars, breastplates, masks, diadems, swords and girdles of gold, glitter dimly in the half-light. Upon two inclined tables shaped like biers, rich ornaments, which had covered the forms of Agamemnon and Cassandra, are arranged so as to produce the effect of the absent bodies. Some caskets fillcd with gold, and a few vases of brass containing ashes, are at the foot of the tables. A closed door is on the right side. In the background an open balcony looking toward the plain of Argos and the distant mountains. The hour of sunset approaches.

SCENE I

BIANCA MARIA is discovered arranging the marvelous objects. She stoops to take the necklaces, bracelets, combs, buckles and little idols from the caskets and arrays them upon one of the tables about the golden mask of the prophetess. Some spirals of golden thread hang between her fingers, small spirals which were used to fasten the hair around the head. She fastens them coquettishly in her own hair. Alessandro's voice is heard outside the door.

ALESSANDRO.
Leonardo, are you there?
BIANCA MARIA, trembling, hesitating.
My brother has just gone out . . . I do not know where. . . .

She goes to the door and opens it. ALESSANDRO appears on the threshold.

ALESSANDRO, almost timidly.
Ah, you are alone . . . alone in the midst of gold. . . . I was looking for Leonardo.
BIANCA MARIA.
I do not know where he has gone . . .Perhaps he descended to the fountain of Perseus. . . .

They avoid looking at each other.

ALESSANDRO, making one step into the room.
Have you remained to watch the treasure, Bianca Maria . . . What were you doing?
BIANCA MARIA.
I was replacing Cassandra's jewels around her. See, that casket is full of them. I promised my brother that everything should be in order on his return at nightfall. . . .
ALESSANDRO.
Do you wish me to help you? It is already late.
BIANCA MARIA.
It is late . . .
ALESSANDRO, advancing toward the relics.
Strange! There seems to issue from this gold an indistinct figure . . . The twilight, or a night lamp, could deceive the eye and re-create the entire form. Certainly, Leonardo is aware of this illusion. He must have seen more than once the vision of Priam's daughter.
BIANCA MARIA, sighing.
Ah, his eyes seem to see nothing else but phantoms!
ALESSANDRO, softly.
I am not less sad for his sake than you are, Bianca Maria. I was looking for him, hoping . . . Of late, when he is with me, he seems to be continually driven by an anxiety to reveal a secret to me. I allow silence to fall upon us, and wait, not any less anxious than he. His lips swell, they seem ready to open. But he abandons the idea, and they remain closed. I dare not question him, fearing to drag from him a word that his soul would not yet tell me. And we suffer together, silently.

A pause.

What are you thinking of, Bianca Maria?
BIANCA MARIA, shaking of her thoughts.
Will you not help me? My brother will return soon.

She stoops over the casket and at that moment ALESSANDRO looks at her.

ALESSANDRO.
What have you in your hair?

He approaches her.

BIANCA MARIA, in confusion.
Ah, the spirals. . . . I put them on as an experiment. I wish to show them thus to Leonardo, who entertains some doubt about their former use.

She starts to take them off

ALESSANDRO, With an unsteady gesture trying to prevent her, without, however, touching her.
No, no! Why do you wish to take them off? Leave them where they are!
BIANCA MARIA, attempting to smile.
I must restore them to the dead princess, whom you loved so much. . . .
ALESSANDRO.
No, no! Keep them yet a while in your hair!

In trying to prevent her from taking them off, he touches her hand lightly. Both are troubled. They look at each other with a sort of restrained violence. A pause.

BIANCA MARIA, lowering her eyelids, softly.
You do not help me. . . .

A new pause. Both stoop over the caskets of gold.

ALESSANDRO.
Look at the carving of this ring: a woman, sitting, holding three poppies, with three ambiguous figures standing before her, and upon her head a double edged axe, and the brilliant disc of the sun. Look at this other: a young woman, holding out her arms, turning her head backward; before her a man, also holding out his arms. Look: the woman has luxurious hair.
BIANCA MARIA.
She turns her head backward. . . .

A pause. BIANCA MARIA continues to arrange the ornaments around the mask. ALESSANDRO goes out on the balcony and remains looking at the landscape for a few instants. Both are struggling against the aniguish that seizes them.

ALESSANDRO.
This arid country has, in truth, the feverish aspect of thirst personified. Other lands soften and breathe when night approaches. This one tells of the torture of its thirst even at night. Up to the last gleam of twilight you see the beds of its dried-up rivers whitening dolefully. The mountains over there, do they not look like a herd of enormous asses, with their rigid backs rising one above the other? One feels that down behind Pontino the swamp of Lerna is steaming. Look how inflamed Arachnĉus is. Almost every evening its summit is red, in memory of that fire which announced to the scouts of Clytemnestra the fall of Troy. From the mount of Ida to Arachnĉus, what a long line of signal fires! We were reading again yesterday of the marvelous number of mountain pyres kindled by Victory . . . . And now you may sift through your fingers the ashes of him who announced his return by such signs! You wear in your hair the ornaments of the royal slave whom he chose from the spoils of war!

He moves again toward BIANCA MARIA, looking at her.

And all that is simple, as you do it. The abyss of time is filled, between you, the living, and the belongings of the king and the prophetess, that are in your keeping. All this gold seems to belong to you from time immemorial, for you are Beauty and Poetry; and everything returns in the circuit of your breathing, everything falls naturally under your dominion. . . .

BIANCA MARIA, pale and trembling, resting her back against the table of the golden relics.
Do not speak to me thus!
ALESSANDRO.
Why do you not wish me to speak to you of the truth which you have revealed to my spirit? Do you not think, Bianca Maria, that to manifest internal truth, when it demands expression, is necessary for those who have resolved to live without suffering and without lying? How many times have smothered in silence the unexpected things which were born in us, and rose to our lips! I cannot think of it without regret and remorse. I seem to see them undulating below the still water, sluggish and shapeless. And they might have grown in us, who knows into what new joys, new pangs, new beauties, meeting each other in the currents of our living voices. Ah, woe to the one who hides, who dissimulates, who smothers, who lies before life! Why have we remained up to this time without looking into each other's eyes? Were we afraid to read shame in our glances? Were we afraid to acknowledge by looks what we already knew?
BIANCA MARIA, with anguish.
We know what cannot be and can never be.
ALESSANDRO.
Ah, another prohibition to life!
BIANCA MARIA.
We know that there are things stronger, than death--to separate mortals. Death would not separate us as these do.
ALESSANDRO.
What are they?
BIANCA MARIA.
You know. Sacred things.
ALESSANDRO.
Ah, I would wither a thousand lives that your lips might drink, Bianca Maria!
BIANCA MARIA.
Do not speak to me thus! . . . There is, near you, bound up with yours, a life far more precious than mine: a life almost divine. She is so penetrating that I have never been able to approach her without trembling in every vein. Nothing seems unknown to her, and nothing strange. Every time I have been able to force myself toward her, I have felt in her I know not what mysterious beauty that exalted and humiliated me at the same time. And I have never wept as I have upon those knees, with a weeping that gave me so much relief and so much pain.
ALESSANDRO.
You do not know what terrible and unexpected sterility Time brings to the highest human union. The most powerful roots remain buried and latent below the ground; their subterranean force becomes inert forever, produces neither leaf nor flower. But do you not feel, when your life is near mine, a mysterious vibration that resembles the ferment of spring? Your presence alone is sufficient to give to my mind boundless fertility. When we were upon the loggia the other day, in the silence that followed the outcry, and the wind blew your hair toward me, my soul in a moment expanded beyond all bounds, encompassing an infinite number of new ideas; and the dust of the sepulchres was for me a flood of germs eager to sprout. We sit, one by the side of the other, in a desert far from the tracks of man, motionless and mute as the country at dawn, yet every breath of wind would waft to us marvelous germs.
BIANCA MARIA.
In you, alone is all the power . . .
ALESSANDRO.
In you, in you are all those things which men mourn without ever having possessed them. When I look at you, when I hear the rhythm of your breath, I feel that there are other beauties to be revealed, other possessions to be conquered and that there may be, in this world, things one can do, as delicious as the sweetest dreams of poetry. I do not know how to tell you what I experienced one day, standing beside you, at the first appearance of my love and my desires. It was an extraordinary feeling which I can describe only by analogy with a reawakening of my distant adolescence I remember that re-awakening as a joyful birth, a glorious dawn in which I was born to another life, infinitely purer and stronger, and suddenly the hands of Destiny, firmly clasped around my head, were removed. I was sailing from Apulia toward the waters of Greece for the first time. It was in the Gulf of Corinth, in the Bay of Salona, at the anchorage of Itea where I was to land and ascend to Delphi. You know those places, you who have wandered over all the shores consecrated to Mystery and Beauty. . . .
BIANCA MARIA, as in a dream.
Salona! I remember: an azure bay, with little hidden harbors like the cavities of shells, and pink like shells, in the evening. . . . Upon the caverned mountains, among the rocks, on some patch of reddish soil, waved a few meagre ears of wheat, mixed in with tufts of aromatic herbs. I remember: one evening the stubble fields upon one mountain caught fire. The light and serpentine flames ran among the rocks with the rapidity of lightning. I never saw such a quick and bright fire. The breeze carried to us the aroma of the burning herbs. All the sea seemed perfumed with wild mint. Thousands of frightened falcons circled above that fire, filling the whole sky with their cries.
ALESSANDRO.
There it was, there it was! I had fallen asleep upon the deck, my face turned toward the stars, that August night. The rattling of the chains awoke me at sunrise, when the ship had been made fast. You know, you know to what distance, even in our day, Parnassus extends the sanctity of its ancient myth. Your eyes, before which have passed the most beautiful and the most august visions of the earth, have certainly drunk in that ideal light which encircles the Apollinean mountain on summer mornings. Still recumbent I saw nothing but the fabled summits in the mute pallor of the sky; but from the shore came the chant of the cocks: a lively and proud chant in unceasing calls and unceasing answers, that alone invaded the silence of the sublime solitude. Ah, never, never shall I forget the joyful promises that were made to my new life, in that place and in that dawn, by this inspiring chant! . . .
BIANCA MARIA.
It is true! It is true! I remember.
ALESSANDRO.
Well then, the extraordinary emotions of that far distant morning took possession of my spirit again in that generous hour in which I discovered the power that lies in you. Your lips were motionless, but from your very blood I could hear a song arise that renewed those old promises. Ah, I knew it! I knew it! I knew well that all the promises, sooner or later, would be fulfilled. For this I have waited confidently. I have waited for my spirit to obtain to perfect maturity that it might be capable of the supreme sweetness. I have enlarged its knowledge by every means that it might be better able to appreciate the greater value of every new gift. I have led it to every fountain, I have poured on it every fragrance, I have filled it with every essence, in order that, in its very fullness, it might feel more keenly its insatiable nature. And I waited, I waited! And you came like, a messenger, you appeared on my path at the moment when I was turning back perplexed, assailed by uneasiness on account of the over-long delay. At other times I had looked at you, had listened to the sound of your voice; but in that moment you appeared like a new creature slipping suddenly out of a chrysalis that had hidden you. . . . Before, I had looked at you without seeing, I had listened to you without hearing. Now I recognize you, and you recall to me all the promises of that distant morning. I will not renounce one of them, even if I have to use violence to compel Destiny to fulfill them.
BIANCA MARIA, writhing in agony,
Be silent, be silent! You speak as if intoxicated. . . .
ALESSANDRO, without further restraining his ardor.
I need you, I need you! If ever the shapes I have given to my thoughts have appeared beautiful to you, if ever the words of my poetry have seemed comforting to you, if ever you have recognized any height in my intellect, I beg you, I beseech you . . . do not misjudge this impulse that urges me toward you. My life in this moment is like a river swollen by the waters of spring, clogged with an uprooted forest, that cannot find an outlet. You alone are able to remove this impediment; you alone, with a blade of grass, with the stem of a flower in your little hand. . . .
BIANCA MARIA.
Not I, not I! Your dream blinds you. . . .
ALESSANDRO.
You, you alone! I have met you in a dream as I meet you now in life. You belong to me as if you were my own creation, made by my hands, inspired by my breath. Your image is beautiful within me, as an idea is beautiful in me. When your eyelids quiver, it seems to me that they quiver like my blood, and that the shadows of your eyelashes touch the very bottom of my heart.
BIANCA MARIA, as if lost.
Be silent! Be silent! I feel like suffocating. . . . Ah, I can live no longer, I can live no longer!
ALESSANDRO.
You cannot live except in me, because you are in my life, as your voice is in your mouth How long have I awaited you! With what faith have I awaited you! I do not ask what you have done in the years during which we remained strangers to each other, hidden from each other, invisible to each other, though at times together, though at times breathing under the same sky. I know it, I know it! You have immersed your soul in Mystery and Beauty, you have drunk Poetry at the most remote fountains, you have dreamed your dreams in the glory of the loftiest destinies ever accomplished. I know, I know what you have done that I might find the antique human soul present in the freshness of your love. . . .
BIANCA MARIA, in utter confusion.
You exalt the most humble of all creatures with your breath. I have only been a good sister; everywhere I have carried my simple tenderness for my brother who labored.
ALESSANDRO.
But did not another being live beside the good sister? She breathed upon the golden medals of Syracuse scarcely dug out of the tarnishing soil, and the immortal impressions became bright again under the warmth of her fingers. She knelt beside the trenches where lay the prostrate statues, freed their faces from the inert crust, and saw under the opaque clay, the serene smile of a life divine. At Marathon, on the battlefield, she read, with eyes full of tears, the names of the fallen Athenians inscribed upon,.a heroic column; and at Delphi she divined the mystic melody of the paean engraved upon the marble of a sacred shaft. Wherever a vestige remained of the grand myths, or a fragment of the beautiful imagery, into which the chosen race transfigured the forces of nature, she passed with her animating grace, journeying lightly the length of the centuries, like the song of the nightingale along a country strewn with ruins. . . .
BIANCA MARIA.
Who was she? Am I to recognize myself in her? For you everything becomes transfigured! I have only been a weak, though willing helper; the joys and pains of my brother were my joys and my pains. My heart trembled when his heart trembled. . . .
ALESSANDRO.
Ah, what mystery, what beauty is there that you do not reflect in your person? You too, you too, like Cassandra, whose ashes and whose golden ornaments you have gathered, have put your foot upon the threshold of the Scĉan gate. Across the strata of the seven towns, one built on top of the other, your eyes have discerned the signs of the fatal fire, prophesied by the indefatigable voice of her who now lies there silent, in your shadow. Has the illusion of time not yet disappeared for you? Is the distance of centuries not yet abolished for you? It was necessary that at last I should find in a living and beloved creature, that unity of life to which the whole strength of my art aspires. You alone possess the divine secret. When your hand takes the diadem which adorned the brow of the prophetess, the gesture seems to evoke the antique soul; and an ideal resurrection seems to magnify an act so simple. There is in you a life-giving power of which you yourself are unconscious. The simplest of your acts suffices to reveal to me a truth of which I was ignorant. And love is like the intellect: it shines in proportion to the truth it discovers. Tell me then, tell me: what seems to you most sacred, most worthy to be preserved and exalted above any obstacle and against any interdiction.
BIANCA MARIA, powerless.
No, no You are intoxicated with your own emotions. What you see in me, is in your own eyes. Your words create out of nothing the image you wish to love. In you, in you is all the power. . . .
ALESSANDRO.
What of it? What of it? All the power that is in me would remain shut in and would be wasted in a thousand little whirls of emotion, if the divine voluptuousness that is in you did not attract and incite it to manifest itself in the form and in the words of joy. Joy, joy, is what I ask of you! The other day, when I gave you the flowers, traces of tears were on your face; but around you, in the sunshine, every single hair on your head breathed joy impatiently. I must be free and happy in the fullness of your love, to find at last the celestial harmony sought by more than one. I need you! I need you!
BIANCA MARIA, summoning all her strength.
Well then, tell me, tell me: what are you going to do? What are you going to do with me, with the people whom I love, whom you love? Tell me!

A pause.

ALESSANDRO.
Let destiny be accomplished. . . .
BIANCA MARIA.
But the sorrow? But the sorrow? Do you not feel that a cloud of grief is upon our heads, growing denser and crushing us? Do you not feel that the beloved souls nearest to us are suffering from their divination of a sin, or from their apprehension of a catastrophe which they do not know how to meet? A moment ago you reminded me of my tears. . . . Ah, if I could only tell you all the anguish of that day, if I could only tell you my misery and my dismay! She knew, she knew. I felt that she knew. Her hands so full of life--ah, too full of life!--dug into my soul as one searches a garment for the most hidden folds. An unspeakable torture! My secret was in her hands, and she plucked it as one plucks the petals of a cut rose. And yet I felt in her I know not what sweetness, mingled with her despair; and it seemed to me that her heart was in turns contracting like a knot and opening like a flower, and that she would rise eagerly toward life. . . .

A pause.

ALESSANDRO, hesitating.
You believe that she is sure?
BIANCA MARIA.
She is sure.

A pause.

And he? You do not think that he has a suspicion?
ALESSANDRO.
Oh no! No suspicion lies in him. I know him well. . . .
BIANCA MARIA.
But the strange change in him, his secret and almost savage sadness, his attitude toward me. . . . At times he fixes upon me a glance I cannot bear. When I go near him, when I take his hands, it seems sometimes that a violent aversion arises in all his being. . . .
ALESSANDRO.
You are mistaken, Bianca Maria. He has no suspicion, but his condition troubles him strangely. . . . .
BIANCA MARIA.
His condition! Then you also think that he is really ill?
ALESSANDRO.
His nerves are strained by too long and too fierce a tension. Dark imaginations must torment his weakened spirit. Certainly there is something inexplicable about him. . . . But he will speak to me, he will reveal to me the hallucination which pursues him; he will confess to me his terror. A man cannot with impunity uncover the sepulchres and look at the faces of the dead; and of such dead!

A pause.

He will speak to me. Last night he was about to speak . . . I will find him to-night. You do not know where he has gone?
BIANCA MARIA.
I do not know. Perhaps to the fountain of Perseus. That is the place he prefers when he desires to be alone. The water! The water! Ah, what in the world is more beautiful than the water? Everything here is dried up, everywhere there is thirst, thirst! . . . There is the only refuge; there is a sweet murmur that soothes, that soothes the thoughts.

She leaves the table, where the golden relics are, moving toward the balcony with a slowness almost of abandon.

The water! The water! How long since I saw a large river flowing through green meadows, a lake in a wreath of woods, a waterfall whiter than snow. . . .
ALESSANDRO, pale with emotion, stopping her suddenly on her way, taking her hands.
Ah, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, and sweet, indeed, and fresh, in truth, like water that flows, like water that quenches. . . . All your beauty, ah, it seems all your beauty inundates my senses like living water, like water that palpitates, that trembles. . . . Ah, beautiful, beautiful, for no one so beautiful as for me!
BIANCA MARIA, faintly.
Leave me! Leave me, Alessandro!
ALESSANDRO, as if intoxicated.
I feel the love well up in all your veins, in your hair; I see it gush forth from under your eyelids. . . . I breathe the aroma of the tears in your eyes. Your whole form vanishes into mine. . . .You are all within me, like a nectar that I have drunk. . . .

He leans over to kiss her lips. She starts back amazed, scarcely suppressing a cry. They remain face to face, panting, unable to speak.

BIANCA MARIA, shivering.
Listen!
ALESSANDRO.
What is it?
BIANCA MARIA.
Her voice.

Both stand listening for a moment.

It is her voice, it is her voice. She is looking for you; surely she is looking for you.
ALESSANDRO.
Do not fear, do not fear.
BIANCA MARIA.
She knows everything, she understands everything. . . . It is not possible to conceal. . . . As soon as she crosses the threshold she will hear our pulses beat. It is not possible to hide. . . .
ALESSANDRO, with sadness.
We need not hide anything from a soul that deserves to hear the truth, Bianca Maria.
BIANCA MARIA.
But the pain, but the pain. . . .
ALESSANDRO.
She is the slave of pain. It is not given to us to do anything to set her free. She is in another life.
BIANCA MARIA.
In another life!

She bows her head and moves toward the door.

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THE DEAD CITY ~ ~ACT SECOND, SCENE II

 

ANNA, guided by THE NURSE appears upon the threshold. Her whole manner expresses grief, though she is strangely calm.

ANNA.
Bianca Maria!
BIANCA MARIA, taking her hand.
Here I am.
ANNA.
Go, go, nurse.

THE NURSE retires. BIANCA MARIA leads the blind woman toward ALESSANDRO.

Alessandro!
ALESSANDRO.
I am here, Anna.

The blind woman holds out her hand to him. He grasps it, and she remains for some moments in silence, standing between the two. Then detaching herself from him, she draws BIANCA MARIA toward her.

ANNA.
Give me a kiss, Bianca Maria.

She kisses her on the mouth.

You seem to have been away from me an endless time. . . . What have you been doing?

BIANCA MARIA confused, hesitates to answer.

What have you been doing?
BIANCA MARIA, bewildered.
I have been here, almost all day, assisting my brother.

ALESSANDRO goes to the balcony and stands, leaning on the railing, looking out upon the country.

ANNA.
This is the room of the golden relics?
BIANCA MARIA
It is.
ANNA.
And of the ashes?
BIANCA MARIA.
And of the ashes.
ANNA.
Where are they?
BIANCA MARIA.
Over there, in the copper vases.
ANNA.
Take me there. I should like to touch them.

BIANCA MARIA, leads her to one of the cinerary urns.

Here. Here are the ashes of Cassandra; there the ashes of the King.

ANNA, in a low voice.
Cassandra! She, too, could see. . . . She always saw around her misfortune and death.

She bends over the urn, takes a handful of ashes and lets them sift through her fingers.

How soft these ashes are. They glide through your fingers like the sands of the sea. . . . You were reading her words yesterday, Alessandro. Amid the terrible shouting there was a voice infinitely sweet and sad. The old men compared her to a "somber nightingale." . . . What were her words when she remembered her beautiful river? And when the old men asked her about the love of the god? Do you not remember them?
BIANCA MARIA.
He does not hear you, Anna.
ANNA.
He does not hear me?
BIANCA MARIA.
He is on the balcony.
ANNA.
Ah, he is on the balcony.
BIANCA MARIA, turning to the balcony.
He is looking at the sunset. It is a marvelous sunset. Behind the cape of Artemisium the whole sky is on fire. The top of Arachnĉus burns like a pyre. The red reflection reaches this far, and strikes this gold. . . .
ANNA.
Take me nearer the relics.
BIANCA MARIA, conducting her to one of the tables.
Here are the remains of Cassandra!
ANNA, touching them lightly.
Is her mask here?
BIANCA MARIA guiding the hands of the blind woman.
Here it is.
ANNA, touching the golden mask with her fingers.
How large her mouth is. The terrible work of divination dilated it. She cried, imprecated, lamented without rest. Can you imagine her with a silent mouth? What could have been the form of her grieving lips in silence? What stupor, when she was silent, when the spirit granted her a pause between two clamors! To-night I should like to have you read to me over again the dialogue between Cassandra and the old men. Have you not in your memory, her words when she speaks of the god who loved her, and of the elders who asked her if she yielded in the struggle? She appears to me to blush with shame at that moment. . . . I promised," she says, "I promised". . . . Do you not remember her words?
BIANCA MARIA, more and more troubled,
No, Anna. To-night I will read to you . . . .
ANNA.
"I promised but I deceived him," she says. She deceived the god, who took revenge upon her. No one believed her any longer! She was alone, on the top of a tower, with her truth.

A pause. She continues to feel of the relics.

You also, like Alessandro, love her, this "somber nightingale"?
BIANCA MARIA.
Her destiny was a terrible one. She was a martyr. . . .
ANNA.
She was very beautiful; she was as beautiful as Venus: Leonardo saw her face under the golden mask! It is strange, but it seems as if I also had seen it. . . . What color do you think were her eyes?
BIANCA MARIA.
Black, may be.
ANNA.
They were not black, but they seemed to be because the pupils were so dilated with her prophetic ardor that they devoured the iris. I think, when she paused, when she wiped the foam from her livid lips, her eyes were soft and sad like two violets. Such must they have been before closing forever. Do you remember, Bianca Maria, her last words? Do you not recollect them?
BIANCA MARIA.
To-night I will read them to you, Anna. . . .
ANNA.
She speaks of a shadow that passes over everything and of a damp sponge that obliterates all traces. Is it not so? "And over this," she says, "and over this I grieve more than over all else." These are her last words.

A pause. She holds in her hands a golden pair of scales.

Listen!
BIANCA MARIA.
They are the falcons of the mountain of Euboea, screaming.
ANNA.
How they scream to-night!
BIANCA MARIA.
When the air is burning they scream still louder.
ANNA.
Why do they scream? I should like to understand the voices of the birds, as the prophetess did. I did not know that episode of her infancy, which Alessandro told me. She was left one night in the temple of Apollo; and in the morning she was found stretched on the marble wrapped in the folds of a serpent that was licking her ears. After that she understood all the voices of the air. She would understand to-day the screaming of the falcons.
BIANCA MARIA, in ecstasy.
Cries of joy! Cries of joy! Such beautiful and proud creatures, if you could see them! They are full of vigorous and aggressive life. They have the colors of the rocks; brown wings, reddish body, a whitish breast and grey head. Nothing is more graceful and more ferocious than the little grey head, with its shining black eyes in yellow circles. Day before yesterday when I was looking at them in the sky, one of the guards shot one in the breast with his gun. It fell almost at my feet, and I picked it up. Though hurt to death, it attempted to seize my hand. Blood suffocated it and ran down its beak; a sort of a sob shook it, while the red drops fell one by one. The eyes became dim, the claws contracted, the little head sank upon its breast. Another bleeding sigh. It was the last. There remained in my hand only a clod. . . . And that life, so free and so violent had, a few moments before, throbbed in the sky!
ANNA.
How you speak of life and death, Bianca Maria!

A pause.

Is Alessandro on the balcony?
BIANCA MARIA.
He is.
ANNA.
What is he doing?
BIANCA MARIA.
He is looking far away.

A pause.

ANNA.
What is this thing I have in my hands?
BIANCA MARIA.
It is a pair of scales.
ANNA.
Ah, a pair of scales!

She touches the two scales.

Was it upon the breast of the dead princess?
BIANCA MARIA.
Upon her breast.
ANNA.
In order to weigh destiny! But it is not true, is it? It is not accurate. It seems to me it inclines to one side.
BIANCA MARIA.
It is spoiled. One of the golden chains that hold the two scales is missing on one side.
ANNA.
On which side?
ALESSANDRO, coming in from the balcony.
There is Leonardo! Leonardo is coming!
BIANCA MARIA.
Where from?
ALESSANDRO.
From the fountain of Perseus.
ANNA, laying down the scales.
Shall we go down to the fountain of Perseus, Bianca Maria? Will you take me there? We can sit upon the stone near the pool for a little while and breathe the refreshing perfume of the mint and the myrtle that is so wholesome.
BIANCA MARIA.
I will go with you, Anna. Here is my arm.

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THE DEAD CITY ~ ~ ACT SECOND, SCENE III

LEONARDO enters and turns his searching, troubled gaze upon each one. His manner expresses incessant uneasiness and the painful effort at self-control.

 

LEONARDO, going up to ANNA with signs of affection.
Ah, you are here, too, Anna. . . .
ANNA.
Did you come from the fountain?
LEONARDO.
Yes, I came from there. . . . I go down there almost every day toward sunset. It is the hour when the myrtle becomes as pungent as incense, and almost produces a stupor. To-night it is very strong; it seems to permeate the water, When I drank, I seemed to taste in the water the essential oil.
ANNA.
Did you hear, Bianca Maria?
BIANCA MARIA.
Do you wish to go, Anna? Here is my arm.
ANNA, taking the arm of her guide.
We are going down to the fountain. . . . Alessandro, has the sun set?
ALESSANDRO, on the threshold of the balcony.
It has set.
ANNA.
Is there no more light?
ALESSANDRO.
Yes, there is still a little.
ANNA.
Why do the falcons scream?
ALESSANDRO.
They cry until late; until the first stars. . . .
ANNA.
Good-bye.

She goes out with BIANCA MARIA.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

THE DEAD CITY~ ~ ~ACT SECOND, SCENE IV

ALESSANDRO remains on the balcony, his back against one of the jambs of the door, still looking at the country. LEONARDO, with his eyes, follows his sister as she leads the blind woman over the threshold.

ALESSANDRO.

What is that fire over there upon the summit of Larissa? Look! One, two, three fires. . . . Another fire there below Lycone. Do you see? Do you see the columns of smoke? They seem motionless. Not a breath of air is stirring. What an endless calm! It is one of the most beautiful and most solemn nights that I have ever witnessed.

A pause. LEONARDO approaches his friend, places a hand upon his shoulder with a fraternal gesture and remains silent.

Look at the color and the lines of the mountains against the sky! Every time I look at them in the evening, I feel for a moment a spontaneous adoration toward their divinity. In no other land does one feel as in this, that there is something sacred in the view of distant mountains. is it not so?
LEONARDO, in an altered voice.
It is true. One must pray to the mountains, they are pure.
ALESSANDRO.
How pure they are to-night! They seem to be made of sapphire. Arachnaeus only is still red; its top is always the last to go out. But what are those fires? They multiply, they spread over the hills, down to the plain. . .. . Look, below Larissa there is a wreath of them. It is strange that the columns of smoke should be so white. They seem to be illuminated by another light, by an invisible moon, do they not? They are religious columns and perhaps they carry the supplications of men.
LEONARDO.
Perhaps. Men implore for rain, for the thirsty soil.
ALESSANDRO.
This drought is terrible.

A pause. LEONARDO moves a few steps into the room, where it begins to grow dark around the treasures, sparkling confusedly. He is incapable of restraining his agitation. He approaches the table where lie the relics of Cassandra. ALESSANDRO follows him with an anxious look.

Ah, see if the jewels of Cassandra are well arranged. Bianca Maria was putting them in order when I came to look for you. I wished to help her; but then . . .we talked. . . and the hour passed in a moment. . . . We spoke of you too, Leonardo.
LEONARDO, excited.
Of me?
ALESSANDRO.
Of you; of your secret. . . .
LEONARDO, turning pale.
My secret?
ALESSANDRO, approaching his friend and taking his hand gently.
What is the matter with you? Tell me, what is the matter with you? Why do you tremble so?
LEONARDO.
I do not know why I tremble.
ALESSANDO.
Am I no longer the brother of your soul? So many days I have waited for you to speak to me, to confess to me your trouble. . . . Have you no longer faith in me? Am I no longer for you the one who understands everything and to whom you may tell everything?
LEONARDO, repressing the anguish which suffocates him.
Yes, yes, Alessandro, you are still the one. What do I not owe you? What was I before knowing you, before communing with your soul? What was I? I owe you everything; the revelation of life. . . . You have caused me to live by your flame; you have brought to life around me all things that were dead before. . . . Ah, what would all that treasure be to me, if I had not known you? Useless dross! You, you alone have made me worthy to witness a prodigy. . .
ALESSANDRO.
And now? Now I can do nothing for your happiness?
LEONARDO, confused.
I do not know the nature of my trouble . . . . I do not know what it is. . . .
ALESSANDRO.
My poor friend! For two years now, two long years you have been here in this arid country, at the feet of these bare mountains, shut up in a ditch of the dead city, delving in the earth, delving in the earth with those frightful phantom always standing before your eyes in the burning dust. . . . How is it that your strength has not given out before this? For two years you have been breathing the murderous exhalations of the hidden sepulchres, bent under the horror of the most tragic destiny that has ever devoured a human race. How have you been able to resist? How is it you were not afraid of losing your mind? You look like one poisoned; and at times I have seen in your eyes the glint of madness.
LEONARDO.
Yes, yes, it is true; I have been poisoned.
ALESSANDRO.
Why did you refuse to listen to me? When you called me, when I came here, you had already been taken with the wicked fever. I foresaw the anger. . . . I wished to tear you away from that fixed idea, take you elsewhere, interrupt the terrible work. Do you not remember? We should have passed the spring at Zante by the sea, not far away. . . . But your obstinacy was unconquerable; the sorcery had already taken hold of you. . . .But now you must leave without delay. You must go to the water, to the woods, to the green fields. . . . You need the soothing embrace of a beautiful green land; you must sleep, and your dreams must sink deep into green herbs; new thoughts must enter into your soul, little by little. . .
LEONARDO.
Yes, yes, you are right; we must leave here, we must go far away But where? Where? . . . And she also. . . . She also, my sister, Bianca Maria . . . should go with us. . . . She, too, should go with us. . . .
ALESSANDRO, troubled, hesitating.
She too. . . . Do you not think that she also is oppressed, that she also needs to breathe, to live. . . . She grieves for you, she weeps for you. . . .
LEONARDO.
She weeps? Weeps?
ALESSANDRO.
She fears that you love her no longer, that you feel for her no more the tenderness of old. . . .
LEONARDO, deadly pale and hoarse.
The tenderness of old. . . . She weeps? She weeps?
ALESSANDRO, seizing his hands anew, almost with violence.
What is the matter with you now?
What is it? Why do you tremble so?
LEONARDO, with a desperate impulse.
Ah, if you could only save me!
ALESSANDRO.
I must, I will save you, Leonardo.
LEONARDO.
You cannot, you cannot. I am lost.

He takes a few aimless steps about the room; goes toward the balcony; goes toward the door, closes it and turns to ALESSANDRO, staggering as if attacked by a sudden fit of delirium,

What can I tell you? How can I tell you?. . . Ah, it is horrible, horrible. . . .
ALESSANDRO, struck by the gesture and the words.
Leonardo!
LEONARDO lets himself fall upon a chair and presses his temples with the palm of his hands.
A horrible thing!
ALESSANDRO, again taking his hands and bending toward his face, in the shade.
Do speak, do speak! Do you not see that you are wringing my heart?
LEONARDO.
Yes, I will speak, I will tell you. . . .But do not look at me so close; do not hold my hands. . . . Sit there. . . .Wait. . . . Wait until it is darker. . . . I will tell you. . . . I must tell you. . . .you . . . you alone . . . a horrible thing!
ALESSANDRO, seating himself at a little distance and speaking in a low voice, oppressed with anxiety.
Here, I will sit here. . . . I am waiting. . . . I am waiting. . . . You are in the shade. . . . I scarcely see you. . . . Speak!
LEONARDO.
How am I to tell it?

A pause. The two are sitting opposite each other in the dusk, brightened only by the light of the golden treasure. When LEONARDO resumes, his voice is hoarse and broken. ALESSANDRO listens motionless, as if his whole being were contracted with anguish.

Ah, you know her, you know her. . . .You know how sweet, how tender, how pure she is . . . my sister. . . . You know what she has been to me, during the years of solitude and of labor. . . . She has been the perfume of my life, the rest and the refreshment, the advice and the comfort, and the dream, and the poetry, and everything. You know, you know. . . .

A pause.

What other joys did my youth know? What other woman crossed my path? None. My blood ran without being troubled. I lived as if under a vow; I trembled only for the beauty of the statues that I unearthed. . . . Our life has always been as pure as a prayer, in the solitude. . . . Ah, that solitude. How long, how long have we lived side by side, brother and sister, alone, alone and happy, like two children. . . . I ate the fruit upon which was the mark of her teeth, and I drank the water from the hollow of her hand.

A pause.

Alone, always alone, in places full of light! . . . .Now, imagine one who unconsciously drinks a poison, a philter, something impure which poisons his blood and contaminates his soul all of a sudden when his mind is at peace. . . . Imagine such an incredible misfortune! . . . Take an ordinary hour of your existence, an hour similar to many others; it is a wintry day, lucid and clear as a diamond; everything is light, everything is visible from near and far. You return from your work; your mind relaxes; you discover nothing strange in yourself, nor in things; your breath is calm, your soul is at peace, your life passes as it did yesterday, in its continuity from the past toward the future. You return to your home, filled with light and quiet as it was the day before; you open a door, you enter a room, and you see her . . . her, your innocent companion, asleep before the fire, tinged by the rosy flame, her small naked feet exposed to the heat. You look at her and smile. And while you smile, a sudden and involuntary thought flashes across your mind; an unclean thought, against which your whole being rebels with trembling. . . . In vain! In vain! The thought persists, grows in strength, becomes monstrous, dominates you. . . . Ah, is this possible? . . . It enslaves you, permeates your blood, and invades all your senses. You are its prey, its miserable, trembling prey; your whole soul, your pure soul is infected; and everything in you is stained with contamination. . . . Ah, is it credible?

He jumps to his feet, observing that ALESSANDRO trembles in the darkness. His whole body is shaken as by a chill of fever. He takes a few steps toward the balcony, then returns to his seat again. ALESSANDRO'S eyes are wide open and fixed upon him.

Now imagine my life here in this house, with her and with that monster. Here in the house, whether full of light or of darkness, I alone with her! . . . A desperate and secret struggle, without rest, without escape, day and night, in every hour and every moment growing more atrocious as it drew toward me the unsuspecting pity of the poor creature. . . . Nothing availed: neither the furious work, nor the almost beast-like weariness, nor the stupor which the sun and dust caused me, nor the daily excitement of finding promising traces in the soil which I turned up. Nothing, nothing served to overcome the horrible fever, to interrupt for some instants at least, the wicked insanity. I have closed my eyes when I saw her coming toward me from a distance, and my eyelids were upon my eyes as fire upon fire. And while the throbbing of my blood deafened my ears, I thought, with an agony that seemed to be that of death: "Ah, if upon re-opening my eyes I could look at her as I looked at her once, seeing in her only the saintly sister!" And, to free my miserable soul from this evil, my will-power shook it with a violence and with the mad terror of one who shakes his garments in which a snake is hidden. Useless, ever useless! She came to me with her usual step, I am sure, but it seemed different to me, and troubled me like ambiguous language. And the uneasier and sadder she found me to be, the sweeter she became. And when her calm hands touched me, all my bones trembled and shook with cold, my heart stopped beating, my brow was bathed in perspiration and my hair rose as in deadly fear. . . . Ah, far worse than death was the fear that she might guess the truth, the terrible truth!

A pause.

The night! The night! If the light was frightful, the darkness was more frightful yet; the darkness warm with breathing, the darkness which brings hallucinations and delirium. . . . She slept in the room adjoining mine. Every evening, on the threshold, she offered her cheek to me, before retiring; from her bed she spoke to me at times, through the wall. . . . Listening, I could hear her regular breath in sleep, during my wakeful anguish. It was impossible for me to sleep! It seemed that my eyelids would burn my eyes, that my eyelashes were like pins over a wound. . . . And the heavy hours died away, one after the other; the dawn came, and with the dawn came sleep upon intolerable weariness, and with the sleep, the dreams. . . . Oh, the dreams, the infamous dreams, against which the spirit cannot defend itself! It is better to lie awake, better to suffer torture upon the pillow as if upon the fire, better to agonize in weariness. . . . Do you understand? Do you understand? When at last sleep falls upon your misery, suddenly like a crushing shock, when the poor flesh becomes dull and heavy as lead, when all your being longs to die, to die for a time,--do you understand?--the desperate struggle against the cravings of nature, in the fear of falling, during sleep, an unresisting prey to the repulsive monster. . . . I wake up terror-stricken, as if after a crime, my flesh

creeping with horror, not knowing whether I have only been dreaming or whether I am guilty of a mortal sin, more tired than before, more miserable and hating the light--I who fear darkness,--with an instinctive desire to hang my head and gaze upon the ground like a dumb brute. . . .
ALESSANDRO, in a suffocated voice, entirely changed.
Stop! Stop!

He rises, convulsively, unable to control his pain; he goes to the balcony, draws a deep breath, and turns his face to the starry sky.

LEONARDO.
Ah, I suffocate you. Look, look at the stars! Breathe, you who may do so. . . .
ALESSANDRO, softly, approaching him and touching his head with a trembling hand.
Stop now! Stop! Nothing more.

He takes a few steps in the darkness, staggering; goes toward the door, opens it, looks out, closes it again; then returns to LEONARDO, whose face is bowed in his hands, and touches his head. He returns to the balcony. LEONARDO rises and joins him. In silence, side by side, they look at tke country, dotted with red fires, in the calm, pure night.


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