Home  »  A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895  »  From “The Fool’s Revenge”

Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908). A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895. 1895.

Tom Taylor 1817–80

From “The Fool’s Revenge”


SCENE.—A room in the house of BERTUCCIO.
[BERTUCCIO stands for a moment fondly contemplating FIORDELISA. He steps forward.

Ber.My own!

Fio.[Turning suddenly, and flinging herself into his arms with a cry of joy.]My father!

Ber.[Embracing her tenderly.]Closer, closer yet!

Let me feel those soft arms about my neck,

This dear cheek on my heart! No—do not stir—

It does me so much good! I am so happy—

These minutes are worth years!

Fio.My own dear father!

Ber.Let me look at thee, darling—why, thou growest

More and more beautiful! Thou’rt happy here?

Hast all that thou desirest—thy lute—thy flowers?

She loves her poor old father?—Blessings on thee—

I know thou dost—but tell me so.

Fio.I love you—

I love you very much! I am so happy

When you are with me. Why do you come so late,

And go so soon? Why not stay always here?

Ber.Why not! Why not! Oh, if I could! To live

Where there ’s no mocking, and no being mock’d:

No laughter, but what’s innocent; no mirth

That leaves an after bitterness like gall.

Fio.Now, you are sad! There ’s that black ugly cloud

Upon your brow—you promis’d, the last time,

It never should come when we were together.

You know, when you ’re sad, I ’m sad too.

Ber.My bird!

I ’m selfish even with thee—let dark thoughts come,

That thy sweet voice may chase them, as they say

The blessed church-bells drive the demons off.

Fio.If I but knew the reason of your sadness,

Then I might comfort you; but I know nothing—

Not even your name.

Ber.I ’d have no name for thee

But “father.”

Fio.In the convent at Cesena,

Where I was rear’d, they us’d to call me orphan.

I thought I had no father, till you came.

And then they needed not to say I had one;

My own heart told me that.

Ber.I often think

I had done well to have left thee there, in the peace

Of that still cloister. But it was too hard!

My empty heart so hunger’d for my child,

For those dear eyes that look no scorn for me,

That voice that speaks respect and tenderness,

Even for me!—My dove—my lily-flower—

My only stay in life!—O God! I thank thee

That thou hast life me this at least![He weeps.

Fio.Dear father!

You ’re crying now—you must not cry—you must not—

I cannot bear to see you cry.

Ber.Let be!

’T were better than to see me laugh.

Fio.But wherefore?

You say you are so happy here, and yet

You never come but to weep bitter tears.

And I can but weep, too,—not knowing why.

Why are you sad? Oh, tell me—tell me all!

Ber.I cannot. In this house I am thy father;

Out of it, what I am boots not to say;

Hated, perhaps, or envied—fear’d, I hope,

By many—scorn’d by more—and lov’d by none.

In this one innocent corner of the world

I would but be to thee a father—something

August and sacred!

Fio.And you are so, father.

Ber.I love thee with a love strong as the hate

I bear for all but thee. Come, sit beside me,

With thy pure hand in mine—and tell me still,

“I love you,” and “I love you,”—only that.

Smile on me—so!—thy smile is passing sweet!

Thy mother used to smile so once—O God!

I cannot bear it. Do not smile—it wakes

Memories that tear my heart-strings. Do not look

So like thy mother, or I shall go mad!

Fio.Oh, tell me of my mother!

Ber.[Shuddering.]No, no, no!

Fio.She ’s dead?


Fio.You were with her when she died?

Ber.No!—leave the dead alone—talk of thyself—

Thy life here. Thou heed’st well my caution, girl,

Not to go out by day, nor show thyself

There at the casement.

Fio.Yes; some day, I hope,

You will take me with you, but to see the town;

’T is so hard to be shut up here alone—

Ber.Thou hast not stirr’d abroad?

Fio.Only to vespers—

You said I might do that with good Brigitta;

I never go forth or come in alone.

Ber.That ’s well. I grieve that thou shouldst live so close.

But if thou knewest what poison’s in the air,

What evil walks the streets; how innocence

Is a temptation, beauty but a bait

For desperate desires!—no man, I hope,

Has spoken to thee?

Fio.Only one.

Ber.Ha! who?

Fio.I know not—’t was against my will.

Ber.You gave

No answer?

Fio.No—I fled.

Ber.He follow’d you?

Fio.A gracious lady gave me kind protection,

And bade her train guard me safe home.

Oh, father,

If you had seen how good she was, how gently

She sooth’d my fears,—for I was sore afraid,—

I ’m sure you ’d love her.

Ber.Did you learn her name?

Fio.I ask’d it, first, to set it in my prayers,

And then that you might pray for her.

Ber.Her name?[Aside.]I pray!

Fio.The Countess Malatesta.

Ber.[Aside.]Count Malatesta’s wife protect my child!

You have not seen her since?

Fio.No, though she urged me

So hard to come to her; and ask’d my name;

And who my parents were; and where I liv’d.

Ber.You did not tell her?

Fio.Who my parents were?

How could I, when I must not know myself?

Ber.Patience, my darling; trust thy father’s love,

That there is reason for this mystery!

The time may come when we may live in peace,

And walk together free, under free heaven;

But that cannot be here—nor now!

Fio.Oh, when—

When shall that time arrive?

Ber.When what I live for

Has been achiev’d!

Fio.What you live for?


Fio.Oh, do not look so, father!

Ber.Listen, girl.

You ask’d me of your mother; it is time

You should know why all questioning of her

Racks me to madness. Look upon me, child;

Misshapen as I am, there once was one,

Who seeing me despis’d—mock’d, lonely, poor—

Lov’d me, I think, most for my misery;

Thy mother, like thee—just so pure—so sweet.

I was a public notary in Cesena;

Our life was humble, but so happy: thou

Wert in thy cradle then, and many a night

Thy mother and I sate hand in hand together,

Watching thine innocent smiles, and building up

Long plans of joy to come!

Fio.Alas! she died!

Ber.Died! There are deaths ’t is comfort to look back on:

Hers was not such a death. A devil came

Across our quiet life, and mark’d her beauty,

And lusted for her; and when she scorn’d his offers,

Because he was a noble, great and strong,

He bore her from my side—by force—and after

I never saw her more: they brought me news

That she was dead!

Fio.Ah me!

Ber.And I was mad

For years and years, and when my wits came back,—

If e’er they came,—they brought one haunting purpose,

That since has shap’d my life,—to have revenge!

Revenge upon her wronger and his order;

Revenge in kind; to quit him—wife for wife!

Fio.Father, ’t is not for me to question with you;

But think!—revenge belongeth not to man,

It is God’s attribute—usurp it not!

Ber.Preach abstinence to him that dies of hunger;

Tell the poor wretch who perishes of thirst

There ’s danger in the cup his fingers clutch:

But bid me not forswear revenge. No word!

Thou know’st now why I mew thee up so close;

Keep thee out of the streets; shut thee from eyes

And tongues of lawless men—for in these days

All men are lawless. ’T is because I fear

To lose thee, as I lost thy mother.


I ’ll pray for her.

Ber.Do—and for me; good night!

Fio.Oh, not so soon—with all these sad, dark thoughts,

These bitter memories. You need my love:

I ’ll touch my lute for you, and sing to it.

Music, you know, chases all evil angels.

Ber.I must go: ’t is grave business calls me hence—

[Aside]’T is time that I was at my post.—My own,

Sleep in thine innocence. Good! Good night!

Fio.But let me see you to the outer door.

Ber.Not a step further, then. God guard this place,

That here my flower may grow, safe from the blight

Of look or word impure,—a holy thing

Consecrate to my service and my love!