Two Ways of Love.
TOM (her brother).
ADRIENNE (an heiress. Cousin to Tom and Nellie).
A balcony opening from a ballroom.
Time — after midnight.
If I were not so modern ! I am smit
By sorrow, antique as the cruel plan
That made a human heart so breakable
And trusted it to chance’s careless hands.
And my too modern spirit mocks, and says
“That men have died, and worms have eaten them,
But not for love.” No! but for lack of it.
And yet the very blade that stabs so deep
And severe all the arteries of joy
Is joy itself! Bewildering! Oh my heart,
The glad heart of my girlhood, where art thou?
A thing so young and glad an hour ago!
Then time did not exist for me, nor death,
Nor any of those foolish, empty words
An hour ago! Yes! I was happy then.
The air was full of light, a dazzling sea
Where faces floated, and a mirror gave
One, happier than the rest, a look of me.
These saffron roses — are they still the same
I fastened with a diamond at my throat
An hour ago? The air was full of light,
And silver voices rang so melting sweet
From flute and violin and harp, that strings
Hid deep within my being, answered them
In thrilling cadences — an hour ago!
And Phillip passed me, and we looked and smiled,
I up into his eyes, he down to mine,
And suddenly, a tremor shook my heart.
The dove, that wrapped in happy slumber lies
In every woman’s nature, fluttered wings
For instant flight, and through the intimate
And quiet corridor of every vein
The message of the gods was flashed in flame,
And then I knew I loved him. Long ago !
A whole long hour, when I was but a girl.
And when mine eyes became my own again
I lifted them to watch him as he went,
And saw him turn to where my cousin stood,
A lily in her glimmering silken robe,
Her face, set like a cameo, beneath
The dusky coronet of hair, her hand,
Unjewelled save with its own loveliness,
Outstretched in greeting. Adrienne!
I, watching, with my very soul aflame
With this new passion, saw their glances meet,
And knew, Oh! God, have pity! knew by all
The new-born intuitions of my heart,
By every nerve that quivered in response,
I knew they loved each other, and I think
I almost cried aloud as when a child
I cried in passionate amaze at pain.
For I was young, you see, an hour ago.
And then a wave of bitterest despair
Came whelming over me, and I was drowned.
The gay young Nellie that they knew was drowned
Before their eyes, and no one ever saw
How in the magic circle of that room
Ablaze with lights, and flooded with perfume,
A little human tragedy was played —
A girl’s heart waked to love and struck to death
All in an unexpected moment, while
The tide of laughter, gaiety, and life
And music, all too sweet for such designs,
Swept on unheeding. Oh! an hour ago
I could have wept with any, silver drops
To sprinkle my emotions till they flowered
In pity or in sympathy, but now —
It seems so strange to think I cannot weep.
I surely am not I? Nellie! Yet they laugh
As usual when I say some daring thing,
And turn their platitudes to epigrams,
And still I bear my part, yet sometimes glance
In sudden terror at the lace that lies
Upon my breast to see if it be stained
With tell-tale crimson, for it seems, that when
One’s heart is wounded, it should bleed, but no!
I see no sign, and I shall have to live
So many years, oh, heaven! so many years.
For death will not have time to think of me,
I am too young and strong. And though one’s eyes
Can never weep, and though one’s heart
Is sunk in misery, one will not die
But live and live. Oh, what am I to do?
For I love Phillip, who loves Adrienne,
For I love Phillip, who loves Adrienne.
And Adrienne has always been so rich —
So rich in beauty; perfect as a flower,
In colour and in contour is her face,
Deep velvet for her eyes, and shining coils
Of matchless lustre for her woman’s crown,
A regal symmetry of line and form.,
The rounded arm a miracle of grace,
And every gesture supple as the curve
Of willow wands assenting to the breeze.
And Adrienne has but to stretch her hand
And all the rarest flowers, the richest fruits
Of love and beauty, intellect and joy
Fall at her touch. Her well is fathomless,
Yet to my little cup she stoops and drains
The draught that is my life. Unconsciously!
For, royal as her beauty is the sweet
White fabric of her soul, and richer far,
Though heiress of her millions, is her heart
In generosity, and kindliness.
“What can he do but love her, being made
Of just such steel as such sweet magnets draw?
He cannot choose but love her. Who am I
That he should think of me? Nellie, gay
And laughter-loving, not of stature fit
To mate with such as Phillip. Ay! for me
The little things of life, the worthy thoughts
Of some respectable and harmless youth,
The petty cares of home, the level path
Of blameless mediocrity. But! listen, God!
I cannot bear it! Give me something else
To kill me quicker —
Ah ! Nellie ! Come, ’tis late, and you are pale
For all your triumphs. I have watched you, witch!
And seen you pull the strings of all your beaux.
A handful at a time. Such impudence
In little girls, who should be safe asleep.
But, come. Is this your fan? ’Tis very late.
Make your adieus and let us get away.
[Exit Tom and Nellie.]
Tom and Nellie, in their home, seated at dinner.
Well ! tell me of your day, Inscrutable!
What have you done? whom seen and what remarked?
What sudden silence clogs my chatterbox?
Where have you been? What! Nowhere! Lucky girl!
And visitors? whom have you had to-day?
A gasman, and a grocer. Well! Well! Well!
And so ennui has marked you for his own,
So young, and once so eloquent —
Oh, Tom! do hush! How stifling hot it is!
No more — I cannot eat, it is too hot.
I wonder when they will be married, Tom?
What! some engagement? Ah! we live again!
I really feared that something ailed you, child.
But still the ancient tonic works, I see.
The very name of matrimony stirs
The sluggish blood to vivid life again.
Who is it, Nellie? Let me hear the news.
There is no news. You men are all so blind,
Why anyone could see that Adrienne —
TOM [pausing with wineglass in his hand] —
That Adrienne will many Phillip soon.
[Tom drops wineglass with a crash.]
That Adrienne will many Phillip soon?
What folly are you talking? Have you lost
Your wits for good? You must be crazy, girl.
Why! Tom! What is it? Oh, poor boy! I said
That men are all so blind. Good heavens! and I,
With all by vaunted seeing, never saw,
No, never dreamed for half an instant, that
He, too, my darling brother, loved her too.
And oh! the useless irony of it,
The twisted tangle, every thought a knot,
And every knot compounded of such pain,
I cannot, cannot bear it!
Adrienne’s sittingroom. Adrienne waiting. Enter Tom.
I sent for you. I knew that you would come.
I wished to tell you, Tom — won’t you sit down? —
What I intend to do. Perhaps you know —
You surely must have seen that I —
TOM (harshly) —
What is it that you mean? You wish to say
What Nellie, in some idiot mood, implied
That you and Phillip, are, she said, in love —
I mean to marry Phillip, that is all.
But understand. I mean to marry him!
Is this some joke? Or are you only mad?
I may be mad, but I shall marry him.
Never, while I am here above the ground
To stop it. Adrienne —
ADRIENNE — I love him, Tom.
Just pause a moment, realise with me
The meaning of it. I, yes, Adrienne,
Even I — I love him, and I swear
As surely as I live, as this warm blood
Leaps to my cheek, that I shall marry him.
You cannot marry him. You know —
ADRIENNE — I know!
And do you think I am so poor a thing
That I shall stand abashed by such a bar?
An empty mockery! A pagan rite!
A shibboleth of words, as hollow as
The hearts that heard them. What a shadowy thing
For barrier between my love and me!
A marriage? That? A patter from a book,
A fine-phrased mockery. Oh Heaven ! and this
Poor pallid ghost you raise to bid me stand —
It was a marriage, legal, binding, fixed
As firm as laws of God and man can bind.
No sophistry can make it less —
ADRIENNE — Oh, true!
For who can make of nothing even less?
And it is nothing. Listen ! Long ago —
You know, perhaps, how long — for me the years
Were petrified, they neither came nor went —
But you, perhaps you lived, and you can say
How long it is ago that I was young.
Just seventeen! Think of it — a very child!
As ignorant of evil as a flower,
And quite as beautiful. Do you recall
The look I wore? See here, this photograph —
I keep it as the learned doctors keep
Recovered relics of a bygone age.
It tells of prehistoric innocence,
And gaiety incredible! The smile
So merry-hearted. See! a dimple laughs
To greet the lovely curving of the lips;
And see, oh! see the white serenity,
The smooth and flawless beauty of the brow.
And that was Adrienne. You knew her. Ah!
Why should you wince? I face it every day,
This bright young innocence, and every day
I see the stain new fallen, every day
I know the horror indescribable
That came upon this unsuspecting soul.
For I was innocent! Then I awoke
To know myself a thing abhorred, and stained
A girl of seventeen, poor, unhappy child,
Who, when she stepped into the net outspread
My diabolic cunning, was as pure
Of every thought of sin as when she lay
A day-old infant in her Mother’s arms.
And she, my Mother — ah ! you think me hard
That even death cannot subdue my voice
To some inflection kindlier than this.
You shrink from me because I, standing here
A woman, and a daughter, cannot give
The poor defenceless dead her requiescat.
’Tis strange, unnatural. Yes, but not
Till death has claimed his own from me shall I
Forget that she, my Mother, saw in all
That awful trouble nothing but my guilt,
The one thing tangible. That she, whose heart
Should have become my haven, she of all
Who should have sheltered and have shielded me,
Was first to pass death sentence and condemn
As only your good women can condemn
“A fallen sister.” I, her only child,
And fatherless, a girl as foully wronged
As ever, in this woman-wronging world,
Uplifted eyes of murdered innocence.
And I, her child, found only cruel scorn
And ready censure and an outraged pride
In place of mother-love. And then she stood
And coldly told me that my life was wrecked,
My future blasted, and my very self
A shuddering horror to her. Yet, she said,
One thing remained to me — to save her name
From public scandal — that at her behest
You, Tom, you, poor brave knight of courtesy,
Constrained by deep compassion and the call
Of highest chivalry that ever drove
An honourable and romantic youth
To fling his life quixotically away,
That you had volunteered to marry me,
To shield me from exposure, and across
The naked, shivering spectre of my life
Throw as a cloak your warm and sheltering name.
And, dazed and helpless, stricken with despair,
A graven image of sheer misery,
And aged just seventeen! I married you
At her command. Oh, Heaven! what a farce,
A bride whose heart was dead before it lived.
Whose brain was seared. Oh, Tom! Oh! generous heart!
What fatal instinct made you lend yourself
To such a plan, so futile, and so wrong,
As if an empty marriage could atone!
As if two wrongs could ever make a right.
A marriage — that! when scarcely had the words
Been uttered than we parted, you and I,
And, for long years were never face to face.
For we, my frozen Mother and myself,
Wandered in foreign countries year on year,
And fled like lepers from a face we knew,
Or might be known by, and in silence kept
Our secrets in the graveyards of our hearts.
I never used your name. Oh! bitter years
When by degrees I woke to life and saw
With comprehending eyes my own a wreck.
What need to tell you this? My Mother died,
The deadly silence that between us lay
Unbroken. Oh, the bitter years! Of you —
And of that empty marriage form that lay
Unknown and unacknowledged in the past —
I never thought. It was too poor a thing
To claim my mind that ever circled round
The plague spot in my life, and found such deeps
Of fruitless agony, as may, God grant,
No other woman plumb. Ten years had passed
Before I knew a moment’s interlude
From this brain torture. Suddenly my heart
Sprang up among its ashes and I saw
Myself, a woman young and beautiful,
And very rich, and of a blameless fame.
And, lifting my bowed head again, I vowed
To live, and let my dead and sheeted past
Bury its dead.
And then I met my fate
In Phillip Stanhope, and I loved him. Tom!
Consider what it means that I, yes, I,
The woman who had died in grief and shame,
Was suddenly reborn, a ransomed soul.
I love him! God in Heaven! How the words
Ring through my senses like a battle cry.
I, starving, I, an outcast from Life’s feast,
A pale ghost shivering without the pale
Of warm humanity. I love! I love!
And in my veins rich currents come and go,
And thoughts flash through me like the golden points
Of sunshafts breaking through a stormy pall.
Something sings here within my heart where all
Was silence, and upon its lifting wings
I rise to holy places, and I see
What never mortals saw before — a bloom,
A fragrance — a design in life. I love.
And Phillip loves me, pours about my life
The pure flame of his worship, saturates
My spirit with the flawless joy of his.
I am so happy — Tom — I almost faint
With thinking of it — and oh, Cousin, would —
TOM (hoarsely) —
It is a tale to move a heart of stone
And mine, alas! is only made of flesh.
How can I throw a shadow on your life,
And darken it —
You could not do it, Tom.
And yet I must. For, listen, Adrienne,
You cannot marry while I live. No! No!
No casuistry can ever alter that.
You are my wife —
What! would you dare to hold
That empty rite before me? Madness, Tom —
Ay! madness truly, Adrienne. I know
All you can argue; nothing alters this,
That you can never marry till this tie
Between our lives is broken. Either Death
Or some convenient substitute must cut
The cord that binds us, or you never can
Be wife to any man
ADRIENNE — I’ll call no death
Nor other agency to set me free
Who never has been bound. I will not stoop
To subterfuge, but stand upon the right
Of my humanity. Why! Tom, ’tis you
And you alone who know this secret. See!
You hold my future, helpless, in your hand.
My heart cries out to you for happiness.
Oh, cousin! Would you cut me off again
From out the living? — bid me find my place
Among the tombstones. See, I kneel to you.
For God’s sake, Adrienne! (No man was meant
To suffer thus, and I can bear no more.)
You do not know the cruelty of this.
I love you, dear. Have loved you all your life.
Although you never guessed. Yet it is so.
Your Mother, penetrating deeper knew,
And when that terrible misfortune fell
I leaped to help you, and my love made sweet
And precious to me any aid I gave —
Don’t tell me — hush! Oh, hush! I cannot bear —
I never knew — I did not guess, and now —
Since so you love — (Oh, what a selfish wretch
To trade upon his sheer nobility!
But I am desperate.) Forgive me, Tom,
I am not worth it. Only let me live,
Promise you will not raise a hand to stay
My marriage — promise — promise — promise me!
But, Adrienne! Be reasonable. Think!
If you will only free yourself —
ADRIENNE — And tell
My wretched secret to the world and so
Let Phillip hear it? Oh! what utter fools
Good men can be. I’d rather die to-night
Than let a breath of such publicity
Defile our love —
How blind you women are!
If you will sow this wind, you’ll surely reap
The whirlwind of destruction. Child! Be wise.
Confide in Phillip. Let me legally
Dissolve the marriage. Then your way is clear
To happiness. Not otherwise.
ADRIENNE — Oh, Heaven!
Tell Phillip? Drag the story out
To be a nine-days’ wonder? Truly, you are mad!
When I am married I shall tell him all.
I would not stoop to so deceive my love,
The very soul of honour as he is.
When we are man and wife, I’ll tell him all
And he shall with his gentle fingers heal
My aching scars —
TOM — Why! Adrienne!
It seems as if delirium spoke. Are you so young
And ignorant of men that you should think
They love like that? (Oh! but I am a brute
To stab her while she bares her breast to me,
And yet I must.) I know your Phillip, know
(How can I say so cruel-cold a thing?)
’Twould kill his love, I tell you — I, who know.
Alas! poor Tom, so ignorant of love,
You never dreamed in all your narrow good
Existence of the height, and depth, and breadth
Of such a love as ours. ’Twould kill it? why!
No thing that ever was conceived in thought
By any human brain could touch our love.
Men are not made like that.
And yet you loved!
’Tis meet to mock a love so poor as mine,
That lives and flourishes on its own death.
I am indeed a travesty of love,
But you shall hear, for once, my passion speak
That has so long been so ignobly dumb.
Always, since you were little, I had watched
The blossom of your life, and every day
Cared more, and as your beauty grew, it lit
A flame within me that shall never die.
I knew you were indifferent. Yet I dreamed —
All fools may dream — of teaching you some day
My way of love, and when the trouble came
My heart was burnt with pity and revenge.
Your Mother used the pity, the revenge
She would not let me taste, for fear it should
Reflect on her. Yet all men love revenge —
Why should they not? Instead of it I threw
My manhood in the gulf that threatened you,
And all in vain — ay! truly as you say,
A needless thing. Yet in my darkest hour
It has been like a muted chord of joy
Singing amid the emptiness of life,
And twice I went half way across the world
On the excuse of business just to see
If time would turn your tragic eyes to me.
Oh, Tom! I never guessed, I truly thought
It was to talk of legal things you came.
My heart was dead. I did not even know
That other hearts were living.
TOM — I know.
I knew it then, and so I never spoke.
I could have claimed you — yes, make no mistake,
I could have claimed you — and there were wild hours —
But let it pass. But now, think, Adrienne,
Your lover Phillip is my dearest friend,
My more than brother, knit to me with ties
That every man holds sacred, and you ask
That I shall thus deliberately wound
And stab his honour. Oh ! my dear, be just,
How can I do my friend this coward wrong?
Tom, all these years you suffered, loving me,
All your great sacrifices, and the gifts
Of name, and youth, and happiness you gave
I take; great gifts for any man to give
And any woman take, yet not enough
To meet my needs. Give me your honour too.
Add that bright thing to crown the glittering heap
And buy me happiness. Oh, cousin, if —
No more, great God! no more! Oh! woman, dear,
These two white hands, these supplicating eyes,
This fatal beauty that is not for me,
These have invaded and usurped my life.
I thought to keep, amid the wreck of joy,
The dear sharp pang of honour in my breast,
The right to walk with lifted head, and look
My fellows in the face. This, too, I yield.
Now nothing counts. And yet it will not win
You happiness. I speak of what I know.
If you must do this thrice-accursed thing,
I ask, as one in truth who has no claim,
Whose only role is giving, if you must
Then do it wholly. Keep your secret close
As I shall too, inviolate as death.
No! No! It is your ignorance that speaks.
I could not live with such a ghost unlaid.
And I shall tell him and we too shall prove
The true dimensions of the power of love —
You go to ruin, girl, as surely as —
Oh! not so sadly, cousin. Let us part
With rosier visions. Ruin is an old
And too familiar bogey now to fright
My seasoned spirit. Let me go from you
With some such careless phrases of farewell
As ordinary women often hear.
For I have left that gloomy pedestal
Of misery unique, and now am just
An ordinary woman. Tom! you have
Poured from your empty hands so full a flood
Of living joy into my heart that I —
Look at me, cousin, look into my eyes,
And read your thanks, a happy woman’s eyes.
I cannot listen, Adrienne. Farewell.
[Exit Tom ]
A Month Later.
Sitting-room of Tom’s house. Nellie seated, reading.
You look so tired, Tom. It seems to me
You need a change. Could you not get away?
You work too hard, you’re looking like a ghost.
Oh! by the way, I had a note to-day
From Adrienne. They’re in the Mountains now,
And it is rather cold, she says, but bright
And very pleasant. Phillip finds, she says,
Some first-rate shooting in the neighbourhood
And is in splendid health. A week to-day
Since they were married, and —
[Telephone rings. Nellie answers.]
Yes, 228 — yes — speaking — yes, I’ll wait.
[Turns to Tom.]
It’s Adrienne’s maid, Annette, who wants to speak.
Some one rang up for her. Oh! here she is.
What? What! No! No! it cannot be —
[Drops receiver and flings up her hands. Tom has risen in agitation.]
Phillip is dead. He shot himself to-day.
Oh, Tom! Oh, Tom! Oh, Adrienne —
TOM [taking receiver] —
So soon! Oh, God! so soon, so soon.
Agnes L. Storrie. Poems, J. W. Kettlewell, Sydney, 1909, pages 41-66
casuistry = clever but unsound arguments; specious reasoning intended to justify or rationalize a point of view
dramatis personae = Latin for “drama characters”; referring to the characters or actors in a drama, play, story, or in a series of events
ennui = a feeling of dissatisfaction, listlessness, or weariness arising from a lack of excitement or work; boredom