THE DEAD CITY ~ ~ ~ ACT THIRD, SCENE I

 

The same room as in the first act. The large loggia is open: through the opening belween the columns is seen the sky of night, glittering with stars. A candle burns upon the table loaded with relics. The silence is profound.

SCENE I

ANNA is seated near the steps the breezes of the night fan her while face raised to the stars, invisible to her. When she speaks, a singuler indefinable animation thrills in her voice, like a soft breeze. THE NURSE is kneeling before her, sad and resigned.

ANNA, holding out her hands to the night.
A little breath of air comes from time to time. . . . A little wind is stirring, is it not, nurse? Do you not smell the myrtle?
THE NURSE.
The wind rises from the earth.
ANNA.
The earth is breathing. A while ago when I went down to the fountain with Bianca Maria not a breath of air could be felt: none! It was a perfect calm, without change. We did not speak a word, lest we disturb it. The fountain only wept and laughed. . . . Have you ever listened to the voice of the fountain, nurse?
THE NURSE.
The water always says the same thing.
ANNA.
It does not, it does not. We did not speak a word, Bianca Maria and I, and the water said an infinity of things which entered my soul like an eloquent pleading. . . . It has persuaded me to do the one necessary thing, nurse. That good, pure water that comes from the depths, from the depths. . . .
THE NURSE, uneasily.
What are you going to do? What are you going to do?
ANNA.
I wish to go away, go far, far away.
THE NURSE.
You wish to go! Where?
ANNA, brokenly and volubly.
You will know, you will know. Do not get excited; be tranquil, poor nurse. I shall travel that road without you to guide me. I shall no longer need to lean upon you, my poor nurse. Light will be granted to my eyes. . . . What did you say the other day about my eyes? "Why should the Lord have left them so beautiful, if he did not mean to illuminate them once more?" Do you see, nurse? I remember your words, and now I know that my eyes are beautiful!
THE NURSE.
How you talk to-night! There is something behind your speech. . . . But I am a poor old woman.
ANNA, seized by sudden emotion, places her hands upon the shoulders of her nurse.
You are my dear old friend, my first and my last love, nurse. I have still some drops of your milk in the blood of my heart, dear nurse! Ah, your breast is dry, but your kindness has become greater every day. You led me by the hand when my little feet did not know how to take a step, and now you lead me with the same faithful patience through this horrible darkness. You are a saint, nurse. I hold a paradise for you in my soul. . . .
THE NURSE.
Now you want to make me weep. . . .
ANNA, throwing her arms around her neck.
Ah, forgive me, forgive! I must make you weep.
THE NURSE, frightened, freeing herself from the embrace and looking ANNA in the face.
Why, why do you speak so? Why do you strangle me so?
ANNA, trying to allay her anxiety.
Oh, no, no, nothing, nothing. . . .I spoke so because I can now give you no other joy, poor nurse, no other joy. . . .
THE NURSE.
You are hiding nothing from me, are you? You could not deceive your poor friend, could you? You could not deceive her. . . .
ANNA.
No, no. Forgive me. I do not know what I am saying to-night, nor understand my feelings. . . . I am strangely talkative. A while ago I felt so light, as if I could fly; I felt almost merry: and I talked and talked. . . . And then suddenly sadness came over me and I gave you pain. . . . Now I feel better, almost well, after having embraced you, nurse. I wish you would hold me in your lap and tell me of the little things of long ago that you remember about me, about me when my mother was living. . . . Do you remember? Do you remember?

A pause.

Ah, why have I not had a son, the son that he wished to have--why? I should be saved now. I should be safe! No mother ever loved the offspring of her blood, as I would have loved mine. Everything else would have seemed nothing to me. I should have continually poured the sweetest part of my life into his. Continually I should have watched the little divine soul in order to recognize, every moment, the resemblance, the only resemblance; his affection would have been dearer to me than the light. . . . But the same judge has made me blind and childless: an atonement for what sin, nurse? Tell me! What great fault has been committed? . . .

A pause, THE NURSE'S eyes are full of tears.

How soon my mother left me! She had me, she had me; she adored me, and still she was not happy. . . . You know it, do you not? You know it well. You know why she died. You will not tell me, nurse, why she died . . . and how she died.
THE NURSE, troubled and hesitating.
It was a fever, a sudden violent fever which carried her off in one night. Did you not know that?
ANNA.
Ah no, no; it was not a fever. Why have you never been willing to tell me the truth?
THE NURSE.
Is that not the truth?
ANNA.
It is not, it is not! In the evening, My mother stood at my bedside, and while I was falling asleep, I felt her kisses upon my face, and something warm, like tears. . . . Ah, sleep was so strong, it conquered the vague pain in my little heart; and in the dying twilight of consciousness it seemed that she let drop upon my face, upon my neck, upon my hands, the leaves of the rose which I had plucked that day from the basin of the fountain in the garden. That was the last glimpse that I had of my mother. . . . Later you came to waken me, and asked me if I had seen her, and when and how she had left me; and you were very excited. But I fell asleep again, listening to tramping of people passing through the garden as if seeking something. And in the morning, a little after dawn, you came again to rouse me; you wrapped me in a cloak and carried me in your trembling arms to another house, where you spoke in a whisper, where everybody spoke in whispers and was pale. . . . And I never saw her again. . . . And then when we returned to our garden, you always kept me away from the fountain, and whenever you were there, your lips moved as if in prayer. . . .

A pause.

Tell me the truth! Tell me the truth! Why did she wish to die?
THE NURSE, disconcerted.
No, no you are mistaken, you are mistaken. . . .
ANNA.
Shall I never know?
THE NURSE.
You are mistaken. . . Ah, thus you always seek to renew your sorrow!
ANNA, caressing her.
Forgive me! Forgive me! I have caused you pain again!

A pause.

Do you smell the myrtle? Do you notice how strong it is?

She gets up and, turning toward the open loggia, inhales the perfume and holds out her hands.

The wind has risen, it seems to tinkle through my fingers like a crystal. Is the door of my room open?
THE NURSE.
It is.
ANNA.
All the windows are open?
THE NURSE.
All.
ANNA.
The wind passes like a perfumed river! Where may Bianca Maria be?
THE NURSE.
Perhaps in her room. Do you wish me to call her?
ANNA.
No, no. . . . Let her rest, the poor thing! She nearly fainted at the fountain from the strong odor of the myrtle. I felt her stagger while we were returning. More than once I had to support her. . . . See how sure I am of myself, nurse! I led her instead of her leading me. I think I could go down and come up again alone.
THE NURSE.
But why do you speak so much of that fountain?
ANNA.
We are all attracted toward it as toward a source of life. Is it not the only living thing in this place where everything is dead and burnt? It alone quenches our thirst; and all the thirst that is in us turns greedily toward its freshness. If it were not, no one could live here; we should all die of thirst.
THE NURSE.
But why did we come to this accursed place? The summer has burst in upon us suddenly, like an inferno. We must flee. When shall we go?
ANNA.
Soon, very soon, nurse.
THE NURSE.
Truly, it is a place cursed by God. The chastisement of Heaven is upon this land. Every day processions ascend to the chapel of the prophet Elijah, every day. To-night the country is filled with fires. But not a drop of rain falls. If you could see the bed of the river! The pebbles are as dry and bleached as the bones of the dead.
ANNA.
The Inachus! The other day Alessandro crossed it. . . . that great day of the golden treasure. . . .

Feeling her way, she seats herself upon the highest step.

Shall I tell you the fable of the river, nurse? Listen! Once upon a time there was a king called Inachus, the king of the river; and this king had a daughter called Io, so beautiful, so beautiful that another king, omnipotent, the king of the world, fell in love with her and desired her. But his jealous wife changed the maiden into a heifer as white as snow, and put her in charge of a shepherd who was called Argus, and had a hundred eyes. This terrible shepherd pastured the white heifer down there, near the sea, in the meadows of Lerna; and day and night he spied incessantly upon her with his hundred eyes. Then the king of the world, bent upon liberating the maiden, sent the prince Hermes to kill the cruel custodian; and prince Hermes, having reached the plain, began to play his flute so sweetly that Argus fell asleep; and in his sleep, with his sword, he cut off the big head with its hundred eyes. But the jealous wife sent a gadfly, that stung the side of the heifer like a point of fire and made her frantic with pain. With the gadfly in her side, the frantic Io began to run over the sands of the sea; and she ran, and ran, and ran over all the earth, through rivers and straits, and over the mountains, always with the gadfly in her side, crazed with pain and terror, consumed with thirst and hunger, sinking with weariness, foaming at the mouth, panting, lowing pitifully, without pause, without rest. . . At last, in a far distant land beyond the sea, the king who loved her appeared, and with a single gesture, barely touching her, calmed her, and restored her to human form, and she gave birth to a black child. And from this black child, after five generations descended the Danaides, the fifty Danaides. .

She leans over toward THE NURSE, whose head has sunk upon her breast in slumber.

Are you asleep, nurse?
THE NURSE, shaking herself.
No, no. . . . I am listening
ANNA.
You are sleepy, poor nurse. At one time it was you, who told me stories to make me sleep. . . . Go, go and rest yourself, nurse. I will call you. I am expecting Alessandro.
THE NURSE.
No, I am not sleepy. But, your voice is so sweet. . . .
ANNA.
Is Alessandro in his room?
THE NURSE.
He is.
ANNA.
I heard him close his door. . . .heard the key turn.
THE NURSE.
Do you wish me to call him?
ANNA.
No, no! . . . Perhaps he desires to be alone; he may be working. . . .

Listening.

Some one is coming up the stairs.
THE NURSE rises and goes toward the first door on the right.

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THE DEAD CITY ~ ~ ~ ACT THIRD, SCENE II

 

Enter LEONARDO, hesitating. He appears less opressed by his trouble. He is dejected but somewhat resigned; he has been weeping.

LEONARDO, approaching the blind woman humbly.
You are here, Anna. . . . You are alone. . . .
ANNA, rising and holding out her hands.
I was waiting for some one to come. Alessandro is still in his room, and Bianca Maria . . . I think is resting. . . . She came near fainting down there at the fountain, overcome by the strong fragrance of the myrtle. . . .
Turning to THE NURSE.
Go, nurse. I will call you.

THE NURSE goes out through the second door to the left.

LEONARDO.
Ah, she nearly fainted. . . .
ANNA.
A dizziness. . . . She plunged her hands into the water to recover herself. I brought her back. . . . How well I can find my way! I believe I could go down alone and come up alone.
LEONARDO.
You could not lose your way. . . .
ANNA.
Not on that path.
LEONARDO.
Will you be seated, Anna?
ANNA.
No, I should like to step out on the loggia. The night must be marvelous.

LEONARDO guides her up the steps. Both stop between the columns. ANNA leans against a columns, her face turned toward tke sky.

LEONARDO.
It is marvelous; and so clear that one can distinguish all the stones in the Walls of the Dead City.
ANNA.
You call it dead, the city of the golden treasure! It seems to me that for you, it ought to be living with a life incredible. I should think that you would see forever what you alone have seen.
LEONARDO.
Ah, it is dead, dead indeed. . . . It has given me all that it could give. To-day it is no more than a desecrated cemetery. The five sepulchres are nothing but five empty and shapeless mouths.
ANNA.
They must be hungry again. . . .

A pause.

Are you looking at the stars?
LEONARDO.
They never shone more brightly; their scintillation is so rapid and so strong that they seem near to us. The Big Dipper almost frightens me. It flames as if it had entered the terrestrial atmosphere. The Milky Way seems to wave in the wind like a long veil.
ANNA.
Ah, at last you recognize the beauty of the sky! Alessandro said that, fascinated by the sepulchres, you had forgotten the beauty of the heavens.
LEONARDO.
To look at the stars, the eyes must be pure.
ANNA.
Did not Bianca Maria give you the ointment for your suffering eyes, which she promised you?
LEONARDO, with a changed voice.
Yes, indeed, my eyes are beginning to improve. . . .
ANNA, sweetly, trying to get nearer to his soul.
You have some grudge against your sister, Leonardo. . . .
LEONARDO, trembling.
I?
ANNA.
More than once, Leonardo, more than once I have noticed your excited state when she was present, or when some one spoke of her. . . .
LEONARDO, trembling.
You have noticed. . . .
ANNA.
Have you no confidence in me? Do you not think that my soul is fitted for the truth? Do you not believe that I am partly of the life beyond? Beyond the beautiful and cruel life which the light of day illuminates?
LEONARDO.
Of what truth do you speak, Anna? Of what truth?
ANNA.
Of the truth that I know, that no one can hide, that no one can change, that no one can change.

A pause. LEONARDO, shocked and perplexed, looks at her fixedly, his back against the other column.

I see that you are excited, full of anxiety and fear. . . . I know you are suffering. And you are not suffering alone, Leonardo, we all suffer; and each of us tries to hide it from the others; and each is conscious of committing an offense against the others, and against himself, because he feels that his faith is shaken; and we live without courage, doubting and humiliated, while truth is seated in the midst of us, and looks at us with inflexible eyes. . . .
LEONARDO.
I do not understand you.
ANNA.
Oh, do not try to spare me! If you recognize any nobility in my soul, if it seems to you that I have been, so many years, a neither unworthy nor useless companion of the man whom you love and admire above all others, if you think that I am not undeserving of the fraternal kindness that you have shown me at all times, Leonardo, do not try to spare me; do not show for me the pity which you would have for a poor and weak creature, afraid of pain! The air of the night alone passes between us. This is the moment for us to speak out all that is most serious and strongest within us. Any delay will be a weakness, a peril perhaps.
LEONARDO, surprised and trembling.
I am amazed. . . . Your words were unexpected.
ANNA.
I have felt for a long time that you were suffering; for too long a time have I felt in my darkness. . . . I cannot express it, I cannot express it. . . . I feel as if a web of secret things were being woven in silence . . . an impalpable web, which, however, at times holds me like a snare. . . . Ah, I cannot live so. I cannot continue to live so; I can live no longer if not in truth, for the light of my eyes has gone out. Well, then, let us tell the truth. I, I alone am the cause of this misery. I no longer belong to this beautiful and cruel world. I am an impediment, an inert obstacle against which so much hope and so much strength hurl themselves and break into fragments. . . . What crime is it then, if that dear creature obeys, trembling and weeping, the fate that ensnares her? Why should you deprive her of your tenderness, when everything that is human in her yields to the greatest of human needs? Something was slumbering in her which now has suddenly awakened, and she herself is frightened by the power of that awakening, she herself trembles at it and weeps. . . . Ah, I know, I know how ardent the desire to live is in her blood! I have held it in my hands, I have felt it beat between my fingers like a wild lark fresh and fragrant with the morning air it drank in. All her face, encircled by her hair, beat like a violent pulse. I had never felt such a strong pulse. The vital power that is in her is incredible. She herself is afraid of it, as of some unknown evil, as of a frenzy going to overwhelm her. At times she believes that she has smothered it under the weight of her anguish, but suddenly it again overwhelms her, and a new voice comes to her lips and she speaks as if inspired. . . . A while ago, before you entered, standing by the ashes and the golden treasure, she told me about a wounded falcon, and the rushing of a thousand wings was in her new voice.

A pause. LEONARDO listens intently without stirring, as if petrified.

What is her crime if she loves? Do you not think, Leonardo, do you not think that her youth has already been sacrificed at your side too long? Can your brotherly love ask the sacrifice of her entire life? She felt as if she were dying that morning, when she read the lamentation of Antigone. . . . It is not possible that all her vitality should be consumed in sacrifice. She needs pleasure. She was made to give and to receive pleasure. Would you, Leonardo, would you have her renounce her legitimate share of joy?

A pause. Her courage seems to sink.

And he. . . .

Her voice dies on her lips. LEONARDO shows extreme agony.

. . . How could he fail to love her? He must indeed recognize in her the living embodiment of his loftiest dream: the goddess of Victory that is to crown his life. What am I to him, but a heavy chain, an unbearable burden? You know what a profound aversion he has to all inert grief, to all useless pain, to any prohibition, to any obstacle that may hinder the upward flight of noble forces toward their highest development. You know with what assiduous vigilance he looks about him, and absorbs all that may increase and accelerate the active force of his spirit, to fit him for the works of beauty that he is to accomplish. . . . Ah, what am I, of what value is a poor, half dead husk, as compared with the infinite world of poetry that he carries within him, and which, some day, he will reveal to humanity? What is my solitary sadness, compared to the infinite grief, which he can alleviate with the revelation of his pure art? I am only half alive. . . . I have already one foot in the shadow. I need to take one step only, one little step to disappear. oh, a very little step! I know, I know all that gathers and twines around this, my remnant of life, to render it more binding, the legitimate tie, custom, prejudice, pity and remorse . . . . I remember a stone column, corroded and broken, on the shore of a former port, filled with sand, where the skeleton of a ship showed above the water; I remember the useless wreck, around which one could still see the knots of the worn out cables, and remnants of the old anchors. . . . It was the saddest sight to be found; and the open sea, looked upon from that point of view, was a promise unspeakably alluring.

A pause. She inclines her head upon her breast for a moment gathering strength. Then she shakes herself and holds her hands out to LEONARDO, whom excess of emotion prevents from speaking.

I lose what I love and save what I can! Put your hands in mine, Leonardo.

LEONARDO moves toward her, staggering, and joins hands. She shivers at the contact.

They are colder than mine; they are icy.

They descend the steps.

LEONARDO, in a weak and broken voice.
Forgive me, Anna, if I do not know how to answer you. . . . I will speak to you to-morrow. . . . Promise me that you will wait for me, that you will hear me. . . . I do not know, I cannot now. . . . You understand me, Anna. . . . Promise me that you will hear me to-morrow. . . .
ANNA, with a sigh.
What could you tell me? Alas, are not words already too many? Have I not my said already what had better remained unsaid? Ah, life eludes us always, and drags us along when we wish to fly from it.
LEONARDO, with a last outburst of hope.
Are you certain, are you? Are you certain that he loves her, that she loves him? . . . You are certain, Anna, of their love?. . .You do not deceive yourself, do you? It is not a doubt, a suspicion? . . . You are sure . . . sure . . .
ANNA, struck by his tone.
And you? And you? Are you not certain?

A pause. LEONARDO hesitates to reply.

Why are you silent? Oh, still pity for me?

LEONARDO, softly, anxiously watching the first door to the left, as if afraid of some surprise.

Alessandro. . . . Alessandro is there. . . . You will see him. . . Will you tell him that you spoke to me. . . . that you told me all this?
ANNA.
No, no. . . . Forgive me, Leonardo, forgive me! . . .To you, too, to you, too, I ought to have been silent. . . .Silence, ah how difficult silence is, even for those who have renounced life.
LEONARDO.
I shall see you again, to-morrow, I shall speak to you, to-morrow. . . . Promise me. . . . I shall find you here to-morrow at the same hour, shall I? Thanks, Anna.

He kisses her hands.

Thanks! Good-bye.

He turns toward the second door at the right. About to open it, he stops in the act, shaken by an uncontrollable trembling, he goes to the door by which he entered and disappears down the stairs, as in flight.

ANNA, listening, makes a few steps in the direction of the noise of the fleeing feet.
Leonardo! . . . He is going down the stairs. . . . Leonardo! Leonardo!

She stops, breathless.

My God, my God! How he trembled before that door!

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THE DEAD CITY~ ~ ~ ACT THIRD, SCENE III

SCENE III

BIANCA MARIA enters tltrough her door, frightened.
Did you call Leonardo? What has happened? Where is Leonardo? Speak, Anna! Where is he?
ANNA.
Do not be afraid. . . . He was here, a little while ago; he was here, talking with me, on the loggia. . . . And he went away, I don't know why. . . . I don't know where he went. . . . I called to him because all at once I felt the desire to go out with him. . . . The night is so beautiful. But he did not hear me.
BIANCA MARIA.
I was afraid.
ANNA.
Do not be afraid, Bianca Maria.
BIANCA MARIA
I was alone in the room of the treasures, placing the jewels around Cassandra, so that when he returned he would find everything done. . . . I was not very tranquil, however. I had from time to time a slight shiver. . . . If you could have seen, in the night, by the light of the lamp, those golden masks! . . . They took on a strangely life-like aspect. . . . A sudden gust of wind put out the lamp and I found myself in darkness; and at that moment I heard you calling Leonardo. . . . I was afraid.
ANNA.
You child!
BIANCA MARIA, clinging to ANNA with a sudden motion.
There is a fear, a constant terror in my heart, Anna, that I do not understand. I should like to flee; a mad impulse to flee seizes me, I don't know where, don't know where. . . . But tell me, you tell me, Anna, what I shall do! Help me, you who are all kindness and all and strength, who know how to forgive and how to defend! I place my whole soul in your hands. I place my life in your hands, that are saintly, that are the truth, that have been bathed in my tears. . . Tell me what I must do!
ANNA, gently caressing her.
Be calm, be calm. - . Do not be afraid! Fear nothing! No one will hurt you poor soul! I am here, and I will save you. Have faith, have faith! Wait a little longer!
BIANCA MARIA, with growing excitement.
Anna, Anna, I do not wish to leave you again; I would not like to be away from you any more! I would like to flee with you, go far away with you, and be always at your side, at your feet, your faithful slave, obeying your every wish, watching over you as one guards a holy image, praying for you, dying for you, as your nurse, as your nurse. . . . I feel perfect devotion for you in my soul! No pain, no pain would seem too heavy to bear in serving you in your sorrow. If with all my blood I could spare you these days of anguish and of torment; if at the price of a horrible death, I could destroy every trace of these things,--Anna, Anna, believe me!--I should not hesitate, I should not hesitate.
ANNA.
Ah, dear one, all your blood and all your tears could not revive a single smile. All the bounty of spring could not make a plant blossom again the root of which is injured. Therefore, do not torment yourself, Bianca Maria, do not complain of things that are already accomplished, that already belong to the past. I have placed my days and my dreams outside my own soul . . the days that have passed, the dreams that have vanished! I wish no one to feel compassion for me,--no one to attempt to console me. I should like to find a peaceful road for my unsteady footsteps, some place where dreams and pain would mingle, where there would be neither noise nor curiosity, and no one to see or to hear. And I should want never to speak again, because in certain hours of life no one knows which words it is better to say, and which it is better to keep to one's self And, I should like, Bianca Maria, I should like you to have faith in me, as in an older sister, who put herself out of the way quietly, because she understood all, and forgave all. . . . quietly . . . . quietly . . not far. . . . not too far. . . Come, come! You promised to read to me, a while ago; you remember? Find the book and let me sit down!
BIANCA MARIA leads her to a chair, kneels before her, and takes her hands.
Listen, Anna, listen. Nothing is lost, nothing is irreparable. Itwould be impossible to utter more desperate words with a sweeter voice than you have uttered. . . . Ah, do you think I do not understand you? Well then, nothing, nothing is lost; nothing irreparable has happened. . . . I do not know what sudden fear drove me into your arms; I cried to you to save me, to defend me . . . but against a peril that I am ignorant of, against some obscure danger hanging over me without my being able to see it, to recognize it, I am weak; childless terrors can still seize upon my mind of a sudden and unsettle it. . . . Listen, Anna, this is the truth. Who could lie before your face? . . . When you entered there in the room of the golden treasure, and kissed me on the lips, you felt that my lips were pure. . . . They were pure then, they are pure now. By the memory of my mother, by the head of my brother, I swear to you, Anna, that they will remain pure, thus sealed by your own hands.

She presses upon her mouth the hands of the blind woman.

ANNA.
Do not swear, do not swear! You are sinning against life; it is as if you were to cut down all the roses of the earth, only to withhold them from those that desire them. What does it avail? What does it avail? Can you perhaps cut down the desire? I felt that your lips were pure, pure as the fire; but a few moments before I had also felt two lives reaching out one for the other with all their strength, and looking fixedly across my immutable misery, as through a crystal that was about to break.
BIANCA MARIA.
My God, my God! You are closing every door around. . . .
ANNA.
One remains open!
BIANCA MARIA, with a clear and firm intonation.
I will go through that.
ANNA.
It is your door, yours; the door of the future. Have faith! Wait just a little longer!

A pause. BIANCA MARIA bends her head down in gloomy thought.

Do you smell the fragrance of the myrtle? It is as intoxicating as heated wine: in the freshness of the night wind,

it preserves all its warmth. Do you smell it? To me, too, it gave a dizzy spell once. . . . It was in the time of great joy, so very long ago! We were going to Megara, along the gulf of Egina. You know that shore? It was then as white as salt, dotted with myrtles and with little storm-twisted pine trees that were mirrored in the calm water. To my ecstatic eyes, the myrtle seemed a fire, burning with a green flame, and the sea was as immaculate and fresh as the corolla of a flower just, just opening. . . .
BIANCA MARIA, raising her head slowly.
What a sound your voice has, Anna! It is so soft, it goes to the bottom of my soul, like a melody. When you speak of beautiful things, there seems to rise to your lips the echo of I do not know what song. Speak to me again of beautiful things, Anna!
ANNA.
You tell me of your dream, Bianca Maria. For what country would you like to set out? For Syracuse? . . . When we came here, we thought of spending the spring at Zante. Alessandro wished to take Leonardo to Zante, for a rest. I do not know the island; but one night, during my first voyage, I saw it from a distance and it seemed to me to be the Island of the Blessed. It was near Myrtia. . . . Myrtia, sweet name! It ought to be your name! . . . It was the hour of sunset. I remember: all around, all around were grand, holy-looking hills, covered with vineyards, so dense that they vied with the even verdure of a meadow, but with something listless about them, as the heat of the day had wilted the tender shoots; and here and there between the drooping vines a mournful row of black cypress trees. The round moon, thin like one's breath upon a mirror, was gliding over the pallid sky, between the tops of the black cypresses. Through a depression in the ground one saw, far away in the sea, the divine form of Zante chiseled in a mass of sapphire, by the most delicate of sculptors, upon a rosy zone. . . . Thus I see it still! There we ought to have spent the spring. I believe there you would have found your oranges to bite like bread. . . . I am thirsty.
BIANCA MARIA.
You are thirsty? What do you wish to drink?
ANNA.
A little water.
BIANCA MARIA, rises, goes to the table, and pours water into a glass.
Here is the water.
ANNA, after drinking.
It is almost tepid. . . . I have always longingly pictured to myself the delight of drinking at the spring with my mouth in the water, as the animals drink. . . . One day I heard Alessandro drinking that way in long draughts, and I envied him. You must get down upon the ground, mustn't you? And support yourself upon your hands . . the whole face immersed up to your forehead. Is that it? I should like to try. . . . Have you ever tried it?
BIANCA MARIA.
I always drink that way at the fountain. It is most delightful. It feels as if the whole face were drinking. The eyelids flutter over the water like butterflies that are about to drown. I have the courage to keep my eyes open, and while the water enters my throat, I discover at its bottom some hidden marvel. I cannot tell you what strange figures are formed by the disposition of the gravel. . . .
ANNA.
Your voice, now, is as fresh as a spring. I really hear the water run over your body, as over the statue of a fountain. . . .

A pause.

Do you not think, Bianca Maria, that the statues at the fountains must be happy? Through their immovable and lasting beauty circulates an animated life that continually renews itself. They enjoy at one and the same time inertia and fluidity. In solitary gardens they times as if they were in exile, look some but they are not, because their liquid souls never cease to communicate with the distant mountains, whence they came, still asleep and enclosed in blocks of shapeless marble. They listen astounded to the words which arise to their lips out of the depths of the earth, but they are not deaf to the conversations of the poets and sages, who like to rest, as in a calm retreat, in the musical shade, where the marble immortalizes classic repose. Do they not seem happy to you? I should like well to be one of them, because I have blindness in common with them.
BIANCA MARIA.
Oh, Anna, you also possess in common with them the virtue of calming anguish and infusing forgetfulness! When you speak of beautiful things, he who listens to you forgets his trouble, and believes that he can still live, and that life can still be sweet.
ANNA.
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Life can still be sweet. Fear nothing! Everything passes away, all is naught. . . . How does, how does Cassandra speak of the things human? "No matter how adverse they are, a sponge soaked in water wipes out every trace." Why do you not read a little? You promised me. . . .
BIANCA MARIA.
What do you wish me to read?
ANNA.
That dialogue between Cassandra and the chorus of the elders.
BIANCA MARIA looks on the table for the book of Aeschylus as under compulsion, almost with reluctance.
Have you found the book?
BIANCA MARIA, opening the book and turning the leaves.
Yes, here it is.
ANNA.
Read a little.
BIANCA MARIA, reading.
"Chorus.
"Thy fame oracular hath reach'd our ear:
"But certes we require no prophet here.
" Cassandra.
"Ye gods! What crime is hatching? What fell blow,
"Mighty and strange? Mischief beneath this roof
"Is plotted; all incurable the woe,
"To friends unbearable! Help stands aloof.
"Chorus.
"Dark are these oracles. . . .

ANNA, interrupting.
No, it is enough. Read no further! It is too funereal. Let us take Antigone again, at the place where you ceased reading the other morning. Do you remember? It was the passage where Antigone was bending under her grief for the first time. It seemed that her voice was gilded like the top of a cypress at sunset. . . .
BIANCA MARIA, looking for the book of Sophocles.
I cannot find it.
ANNA.
You have not seen it since then?
BIANCA MARIA.
Ah, here it is.

She opens the book, looks for the page and reads.

"Chorus.
"So then, illustrious and lauded,
"Thou wanderest toward the hidden dwellings of the dead;
"Not consumed by devouring diseases,
"Nor as the allotted spoil of war.
"But free, but living, alone,
"Of all the mortals, thou descendest to Hades.
"Antigone.
"I heard how of old most miserably perished
"The Phrygian stranger,
"The daughter of Tantalus, on the summit of Sipilos;
"Whom like tenacious ivy
"The stony growth enveloped; neither the tears she sheds,--
"So goes the story among men--
"Nor the snows do ever cease;
"But forever do her weeping eyes bathe those crags.
"I am much like her, for a god brings to me sleep.
ANNA, interrupting.
Ah, the statue of Niobe! Before dying, Antigone sees a stone statue from which pours a fountain of everlasting tears. . . . Enough, Bianca Maria. Read no further. It seems as if death were everywhere, Close the book! Go out upon the loggia and look at the stars. I am tired, very tired; I wish that some god would bring me sleep also. . . .

She rises and calls.

Nurse! Nurse!

A pause. No one answers.

Nurse! She does not hear me! Perhaps she is asleep. She too is so tired, poor old woman! I do not like to awaken her, What is sweeter than profound sleep!

A pause.

The stillness of this night is incredible. The wind has fallen,--there is not a breath of air stirring.

She raises her hands up in the air.

Perhaps Alessandro is also asleep. Do you think so? He has not left his room again. No more noise has come from his room. He has closed the door.

A pause.

What are you going to do now?
BIANCA MARIA, vaguely frightened.
I will wait for my brother.
ANNA.
Alone, here?
BIANCA MARIA.
Alone, here.
ANNA.
Where can Leonardo be?
BIANCA MARIA, trembling.
Where can he be? Why has he not returned?

A pause.

I am afraid.
ANNA.
Do not be afraid. The night is sweet. He will return soon.
BIANCA MARIA.
I will wait for him.
ANNA.
Do you wish me to remain with you?
BIANCA MARIA.
No, no. . . . You are tired. One can see by your face that you are too weary.
ANNA.
Will you lead me to the threshold,--only as far as the threshold? I do not wish to awaken my nurse. I can easily find my room by myself.
BIANCA MARIA takes her hand and leads her to the thresold.
But everything is dark.
ANNA.
For me, there is no change.

She leans forward into the dark shadow, in the open door.

Do you hear the breathing of my nurse? It is not tranquil. It is a little uneasy. May be she fell asleep in an uncomfortable position. Poor nurse! Dear, dear old soul!

She listens again, then embraces BIANCA MARIA.

Thanks. Good-night. Let me kiss your two eyes. Good-night! Go and peace be with you. Go out upon the loggia and look at the stars.

She disappears in the darkness. BIANCA MARIA follows her with her gaze for some time; then, frightened, glances around as if seized by intolerable anguish. She takes a few steps toward the loggia. At the foot of the steps she again looks around with frightened eyes, watching the doors. Then she ascends slowly. When she has arrived at the last step, she staggers, and leans against a column; she remains thus for some time looking out into the night. Suddenly she slips down at the foot of the column with the noiseless lightness of a falling veil, and thus sunk into herself she bursts into tears.

 


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