Fiction > Harvard Classics > Percy Bysshe Shelley > The Cenci
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Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822).  The Cenci.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
 
Act IV
 
Scene IV
 
 
Another Apartment in the Castle.
 
Enter on one side the Legate SAVELLA, introduced by a Servant, and on the other LUCRETIA and BERNARDO
 
  Savella.  Lady, my duty to his Holiness
Be my excuse that thus unseasonably
I break upon your rest. I must speak with        5
Count Cenci; doth he sleep?
  Lucretia  (in a hurried and confused manner). I think he sleeps;
Yet wake him not, I pray, spare me awhile,
He is a wicked and a wrathful man;
Should he be roused out of his sleep to-night,        10
Which is, I know, a hell of angry dreams,
It were not well; indeed it were not well.
Wait till day break … (aside) O, I am deadly sick!
  Savella.  I grieve thus to distress you, but the Count
Must answer charges of the gravest import,        15
And suddenly; such my commission is.
  Lucretia  (with increased agitation). I dare not rouse him:
    I know none who dare…
’Twere perilous;… you might as safely waken
A serpent; or a corpse in which some fiend        20
Were laid to sleep.
  Savella.                Lady, moments here
Are counted. I must rouse him from his sleep,
Since none else dare.
  Lucretia  (aside). O, terror! O, despair!        25
(To BERNARDO.) Bernardo, conduct you the Lord Legate to
Your father’s chamber.  [Exeunt SAVELLA and BERNARDO.
 
Enter BEATRICE
  Beatrice.                ’Tis a messenger
Come to arrest the culprit who now stands        30
Before the throne of unappealable God.
Both Earth and Heaven, consenting arbiters,
Acquit our deed.
  Lucretia.                Oh, agony of fear!
Would that he yet might live! Even now I heard        35
The Legate’s followers whisper as they passed
They had a warrant for his instant death.
All was prepared by unforbidden means
Which we must pay so dearly, having done.
Even now they search the tower, and find the body;        40
Now they suspect the truth; now they consult
Before they come to tax us with the fact;
O, horrible, ’tis all discovered!
  Beatrice.                Mother,
What is done wisely, is done well. Be bold        45
As thou art just. ’Tis like a truant child
To fear that others know what thou hast done,
Even from thine own strong consciousness, and thus
Write on unsteady eyes and altered cheeks
All thou wouldst hide. Be faithful to thyself,        50
And fear no other witness but thy fear.
For if, as cannot be, some circumstance
Should rise in accusation, we can blind
Suspicion with such cheap astonishment,
Or overbear it with such guiltless pride,        55
As murderers cannot feign. The deed is done,
And what may follow now regards not me.
I am as universal as the light;
Free as the earth-surrounding air; as firm
As the world’s centre. Consequence, to me,        60
Is as the wind which strikes the solid rock
But shakes it not.  [A cry within and tumult.
  Voices.                Murder! Murder! Murder!
 
Enter BERNARDO and SAVELLA
  Savella  (to his followers). Go search the castle round; sound the alarm;        65
Look to the gates that none escape!
  Beatrice.                What now?
  Bernardo.  I know not what to say … my father’s dead.
  Beatrice.  How; dead! he only sleeps; you mistake, brother.
His sleep is very calm, very like death;        70
’Tis wonderful how well a tyrant sleeps.
He is not dead?
  Bernardo.                Dead; murdered.
  Lucretia (with extreme agitation). Oh no, no,
He is not murdered though he may be dead;        75
I have alone the keys of those apartments.
  Savella.  Ha! Is it so?
  Beatrice.              My Lord, I pray excuse us;
We will retire; my mother is not well:
She seems quite overcome with this strange horror.  [Exeunt LUCRETIA and BEATRICE.        80
  Savella.  Can you suspect who may have murdered him?
  Bernardo.  I know not what to think.
  Savella.                Can you name any
Who had an interest in his death?
  Bernardo.                Alas!        85
I can name none who had not, and those most
Who most lament that such a deed is done;
My mother, and my sister, and myself.
  Savella.  ’Tis strange! There were clear marks of violence.
I found the old man’s body in the moonlight        90
Hanging beneath the window of his chamber,
Among the branches of a pine; he could not
Have fallen there, for all his limbs lay heaped
And effortless; ’tis true there was no blood…
Favour me, Sir; it much imports your house        95
That all should be made clear; to tell the ladies
That I request their presence.  [Exit BERNARDO.
 
Enter GUARDS bringing in MARZIO
  Guard.                We have one.
  Officer. My Lord, we found this ruffian and another        100
Lurking among the rocks; there is no doubt
But that they are the murderers of Count Cenci;
Each had a bag of coin; this fellow wore
A gold-inwoven robe, which shining bright
Under the dark rocks to the glimmering moon        105
Betrayed them to our notice: the other fell
Desperately fighting.
  Savella.                What does he confess?
  Officer. He keeps firm silence; but these lines found on him
May speak.        110
  Savella.  Their language is at least sincere.  [Reads.
  “TO THE LADY BEATRICE.—That the atonement of what my nature sickens to conjecture may soon arrive, I send thee, at thy brother’s desire, those who will speak and do more than I dare write…. Thy devoted servant,
ORSINO.
 
Enter LUCRETIA, BEATRICE, and BERNARDO
Knowest thou this writing, Lady?        115
  Beatrice.                No.
  Savella.                Nor thou?
  Lucretia.  (Her conduct throughout the scene is marked by extreme agitation). Where was it found? What is it?
    It should be
Orsino’s hand! It speaks of that strange horror        120
Which never yet found utterance, but which made
Between that hapless child and her dead father
A gulf of obscure hatred.
  Savella.                Is it so?
Is it true, Lady, that thy father did        125
Such outrages as to awaken in thee
Unfilial hate?
  Beatrice.                Not hate, ’twas more than hate:
This is most true, yet wherefore question me?
  Savella.  There is a deed demanding question done;        130
Thou hast a secret which will answer not.
  Beatrice.  What sayest? My Lord, your words are bold and rash.
  Savella.  I do arrest all present in the name
Of the Pope’s Holiness. You must to Rome.
  Lucretia.  O, not to Rome, Indeed we are not guilty.        135
  Beatrice.  Guilty! Who dares talk of guilt? My Lord,
I am more innocent of parricide
Than is a child born fatherless. … Dear mother,
Your gentleness and patience are no shield
For this keen-judging world, this two-edged lie,        140
Which seems, but is not. What! will human laws,
Rather will ye who are their ministers,
Bar all access to retribution first,
And then, when Heaven doth interpose to do
What ye neglect, arming familiar things        145
To the redress of an unwonted crime,
Make ye the victims who demanded it
Culprits? ’Tis ye are culprits! That poor wretch
Who stands so pale, and trembling, and amazed,
If it be true he murdered Cenci, was        150
A sword in the right hand of justest God.
Wherefore should I have wielded it? Unless
The crimes which mortal tongue dare never name
God therefore scruples to avenge.
  Savella.                You own        155
That you desired his death?
  Beatrice.                It would have been
A crime no less than his, if for one moment
That fierce desire had faded in my heart.
’Tis true I did believe, and hope, and pray,        160
Ay, I even knew … for God is wise and just,
That some strange sudden death hung over him.
’Tis true that this did happen, and most true
There was no other rest for me on earth,
No other hope in Heaven … now what of this?        165
  Savella.  Strange thoughts beget strange deeds; and here are both:
I judge thee not.
  Beatrice.                And yet, if you arrest me,
You are the judge and executioner
Of that which is the life of life: the breath        170
Of accusation kills an innocent name,
And leaves for lame acquittal the poor life
Which is a mask without it. ’Tis most false
That I am guilty of foul parricide;
Although I must rejoice, for justest cause,        175
That other hands have sent my father’s soul
To ask the mercy he denied to me.
Now leave us free; stain not a noble house
With vague surmises of rejected crime;
Add to our sufferings and your own neglect        180
No heavier sum: let them have been enough:
Leave us the wreck we have.
  Savella.                I dare not, Lady.
I pray that you prepare yourselves for Rome:
There the Pope’s further pleasure will be known.        185
  Lucretia.  O, not to Rome! O, take us not to Rome!
  Beatrice.  Why not to Rome, dear mother? There as here
Our innocence is as an armed heel
To trample accusation. God is there
As here, and with his shadow ever clothes        190
The innocent, the injured and the weak;
And such are we. Cheer up, dear Lady, lean
On me; collect your wandering thoughts. My Lord,
As soon as you have taken some refreshment,
And had all such examinations made        195
Upon the spot, as may be necessary
To the full understanding of this matter,
We shall be ready. Mother; will you come?
  Lucretia.  Ha! they will bind us to the rack, and wrest
Self-accusation from our agony!        200
Will Giacomo be there? Orsino? Marzio?
All present; all confronted; all demanding
Each from the other’s countenance the thing
Which is in every heart! O, misery!  [She faints, and is borne out.
  Savella.  She faints: an ill appearance, this.        205
  Beatrice.                My Lord,
She knows not yet the uses of the world.
She fears that power is as a beast which grasps
And loosens not: a snake whose look transmutes
All things to guilt which is its nutriment.        210
She cannot know how well the supine slaves
Of blind authority read the truth of things
When written on a brow of guilelessness:
She sees not yet triumphant Innocence
Stand at the judgment-seat of mortal man,        215
A judge and an accuser of the wrong
Which drags it there. Prepare yourself, my Lord;
Our suite will join yours in the court below.  [Exeunt.
 

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