CORISANDA: Oh, how bored I am!... What shall I read, Bettina?--while you are doing my hair? Hand me those verses that silly Marquis addressed to me.... [Bettina brings the paper from the writing desk. After glancing at the verses, Corisanda throws them impatiently upon the table.] No; go call my notary. [Bettina goes to door, right, and summons Anselm. He enters, approaches and bows.] Good day, Monsieur Anselm.... Oh, pardon me, but what does this mean? What's the color of your hair?
ANSELM: A blond brown, Madame.
CORISANDA: Ah, this is some joke. Yesterday it was black as a crow.
ANSELM: [embarrassed] Madame the Countess is mistaken.
CORISANDA: I assure you, Mr. Notary, it was black as a crow. Why should I try to deceive you?--Bettina, haven't you almost finished?
BETTINA: Almost, Madame.
ANSELM: Madame the Countess had nothing else to say to me?
CORISANDA: Oh, I ask your pardon. Please sit there. [He sits.] Take this bundle of papers which came yesterday by post. [She hands him papers from her table.] They are about that law-suit of the Count's for the lands. I spent half the night going over these papers, and do you know what I have discovered? That I have lost! Fifty thousand francs, if you please.
ANSELM: [who has opened the papers] Pardon, Madame, but, on the contrary, you have won.
CORISANDA: [bursting into laughter] Ah, so much the better!... Did I have anything else to say to you?... Ah, no matter.
ANSELM: [aside] Can she have seen how I feel?
CORISANDA: Yes.... There is one matter I must speak of.
ANSELM: Madame?-- [Aside.] I tremble for fear my love may be displeasing to her.
CORISANDA: I'm going to make my will.
ANSELM: You will, Madame?
CORISANDA: I shall die of weariness tomorrow, or day after at latest. I shall be bored to death.
ANSELM: Weary? Bored? Madame! In this magnificent château, beautiful, rich, a widow.
CORISANDA: Bettina, explain to Monsieur Anselm why I am bored.
BETTINA: Madame is bored, Monsieur, because she is beautiful, rich, and a widow. These are three very sufficient reasons. She is bored because she has no wish that may not be gratified, because there is no whim that her immense fortune does not permit her to carry out, no man whom her beauty does not make a lover, and no lover whom her liberty does not permit her to marry.
CORISANDA: [sighing] Ah, all that is only too true! [Noise of horsemen is heard.] What's that noise, Bettina? A troop of cavalry?
BETTINA: [running to the window] Madame, there are two strange gentlemen on horseback--one with feathers on his hat!
CORISANDA: Is he young, the one with feathers?
BETTINA: Young and fine-looking! But his valet has the look of a goose dressed in livery. They're entering the court.
CORISANDA: [who has gone to the window] He is handsome, that's true. How unfortunate! It would be fun to turn his head, but then he'd want to marry me, and what reason could I give for saying no? For, of course, I am a widow.... He'd take me for a coquette--he wouldn't know how bored I am.
BETTINA: That's a case when it would be most convenient to have a husband.
CORISANDA: Bettina, I can't refuse him hospitality if he asks it. [She reflects a moment.] Yes, that's it. Monsieur Anselm, you are my husband!
ANSELM: [starting] Good heavens! What, Madame!
CORISANDA: Yes, for an hour or two--for as long as this stranger is in my château. Listen now, and you, Bettina, give the word to all the servants. [She comes forward with Anselm and Bettina.] Monsieur Anselm, you are General Castelforte, my husband, whom false news reported dead in Bulgaria.... Now, then, this young stranger, whatever happens, can ask me nothing that I shall not be in a position to refuse him. Remember, Anselm, to speak as I speak.
ANSELM: Yes, Madame. Should I, in the course of conversation, call you "my angel"--before this young man?
CORISANDA: No. Put on this sword.
[She goes to the wall, right, and brings a sword and belt.]
ANSELM: [aside] Is all this only a game to make me understand she knows of my love?--Why shouldn't I be the husband for her? I'm the only well-dressed man in the neighborhood.
CORISANDA: Here, get on your gloves, and give me your hand.
[Seizing his hand with a flourish she goes out, left, laughing, followed by Anselm, with the papers, grave, and Bettina.]
[Knocking on door, without, right. Re-enter Bettina, who admits the Chevalier de Rosario and Mazetto, his valet. They place their hats on the divan, rear. All three come forward.]
ROSARIO: Whose is this château, my girl?
BETTINA: The Countess Corisanda's, sir.
ROSARIO: Is she young, this Countess?
BETTINA: Young as one of the Graces, and beautiful as all three.
ROSARIO: Take this purse for your mythology.
BETTINA: Thanks, Your Highness.
MAZETTO: [coming closer to Bettina] I must see a little closer here. Oh, good heavens, my child! What is that on your cheek there? [He suddenly kisses her.] Be easy, there's nothing there now.
ROSARIO: You have disgusting bad manners, Mazetto. My dear, will you announce the Chevalier de Rosario to your mistress?
BETTINA: [smiling] Yes, Your Excellency. She begs that you will await her here.
[She makes a saucy face at Mazetto, and goes out, left.]
ROSARIO: Explain me one thing, Mazetto: you seem remarkably successful with women....
MAZETTO: [laughing] Oh--fairly, fairly, that's a fact.
ROSARIO: And yet you have the face of a fool.
MAZETTO: Nothing is more certain; I have.
ROSARIO: Notwithstanding, you please women--you receive their favors?
MAZETTO: I should receive them if my master would only give me time enough. Yesterday, when you called me, if you had only given me ten minutes more my happiness would have been certain.
ROSARIO: You have a crazy idea of always wanting ten minutes more. Your "ten minutes more" is getting to be a little tiresome. But how is it with a face like that you can win any woman's favor? I can't understand it.
MAZETTO: Oh, this face of mine gives me positive advantages. Women say, "Oh, he's only a poor fool, that Mazetto." And that gives me positively great advantages.
ROSARIO: That may be. Everything has its good side--except marriage.
MAZETTO: Oh, that thought torments you, sir! It has become a sort of refrain in your talk.
ROSARIO: But why are women such fools as to wish to bury their lovers in the guise of a husband? Disagreeable scientists will cut a beautiful flower in the sun to make it an old dried-up thing in a herbarium. Women are the same way.
MAZETTO: Your excellency is not a marrying man, that's all.
ROSARIO: No, and when I make love to a pretty woman (which, of course, I can't help doing), it's most annoying to have her make an unpleasant scene when she discovers I'm not the marrying sort.
MAZETTO: Well, you have only to let them think from the first that you are already married.
ROSARIO: Married? No; that gives a fellow an awkward air. But there's one thing I might do. I'll say I'm a Knight of Malta. Everyone knows that the rule of this Order forbids marriage--that's a great idea!
MAZETTO: And I--I'll give myself out for a lay brother of the same Order! We'll both be safe then.
ROSARIO: Be silent. She's coming.
[Bettina opens the door, left, and admits Corisanda and Anselm.]
BETTINA: My lady, gentlemen.
ROSARIO: [aside] Who's this melancholy fellow with her?-- [Aloud.] Madame, finding myself this morning on your road here with my valet--
CORISANDA: Sir, it is a piece of good fortune in this lonely region to--
ROSARIO: [bowing] To find a hostess so charming.
CORISANDA: The pleasure, I assure you, is mutual. But without more compliment, pray be seated. [Aside to Anselm.] Remember to back up all I say.
[They all sit except Mazetto and Bettina.]
ROSARIO: [aside] She's very beautiful.-- [To Mazetto, apart.] Don't forget to enlarge on what I say.
BETTINA: [to Corisanda, apart] His lackey is certainly a fool.
ROSARIO: [aside] I wonder who this silent duffer can be?-- [Aloud.] Madame, permit me to introduce myself as the Chevalier de Rosario, [insistently] Knight of Malta.
MAZETTO: [bowing] Of the holy Order of Malta.
CORISANDA: Chevalier, let me present General Castelforte, my husband, recently returned from his last campaign in Bulgaria.
ANSELM: [bowing] In Bulgaria.
ROSARIO: [bowing] General.-- [Aside.] What an ass he is! But since she's married, the Order of Malta was unnecessary, in fact embarrassing. Bah! She's forgotten it already!
CORISANDA: Tell me, Chevalier, exactly what is your Order of Malta? I confess my ignorance of it.
ROSARIO: Oh, Countess, it's an order of knighthood--like all the orders.
MAZETTO: Except, Madame, that it forbids marriage.
ROSARIO: [aside] The idiot! When she's married!
CORISANDA: Ah!-- [Aside.] If I'd known that, I shouldn't have bothered with this stupid notary. But, too late now.
ROSARIO: [looking furiously at Mazetto] My servant also, Madame, belongs to the same Order, and is bound by the same vows.
MAZETTO: [ogling Bettina] Yes, for my sins.
BETTINA: [aside] He's rather funny after all, this fellow.
CORISANDA: Did you choose this profession, Chevalier?
ROSARIO: Frankly, no, Madame. My father chose it for me, in my boyhood, because I was the youngest of my house.
MAZETTO: As I of mine.
ROSARIO: [apart to the Countess] Pardon, Countess. Would you mind sending this valet of mine to the servants' quarters?
CORISANDA: Bettina, take this young man and let him have some breakfast--unless his vows forbid food.
MAZETTO: Oh, no, Madame!
[Bettina and Mazetto exeunt, right.]
ROSARIO: A thousand thanks, Countess! When the boy sees me in peril of temptation, he becomes intolerable. Count, you appear troubled; pray, don't let me detain you....
CORISANDA: You must pardon the Count, Chevalier de Rosario. The great suffering he endured in Bulgaria rendered him very taciturn.
ANSELM: Very taciturn.
CORISANDA: He was wounded and made prisoner in a skirmish, and, like everyone else, I, for a year, believed him dead.
CORISANDA: Heaven was good enough to restore him to me one evening in the garb of a pilgrim.
ANSELM: Of a pilgrim.
ROSARIO: [aside] Good Lord! It's an echo dressed like a man! [Aloud.] General, it's very sad. Madame, will you permit me to express the great admiration I have for your park?--surely one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. It has the coquetry of a lovely woman, always inviting, yet always concealing and evading. I should like to explore this park, Madame.
CORISANDA: [smiling] But you would get lost, Chevalier, unless I serve you as guide; and if I guide you I should destroy the solitude.
ROSARIO: Countess! Do angels destroy paradise? Count, I am truly sorry for your indisposition.
CORISANDA: [rising] I take you at your word. Give me your arm. My dear Count, this walk would tire you. [All have risen.]
ANSELM: But, my loveliest one....
CORISANDA: Silence, my dear. No unnecessary gallantry. The Chevalier will excuse you, I say.
ROSARIO: Certainly, General.
CORISANDA: Let us go out, Chevalier, by way of the library.
[They go out, left. Anselm remains, pacing furiously up and down.]
ANSELM: [alone] I'm their stalking horse, that's plain. I'm playing fool to them. This stranger with his pretentious talk must think me an ass. But, by heaven! I won't lose them from my sight. I'll make use of the advantage she's given me. It's not delicate, but love knows no law. Where the deuce have I seen that? No matter. After them.
[He follows them, going out left. Enter, right, Bettina and Mazetto.]
MAZETTO: Lovely Bettina! I admired you from the first glimpse I had of you!
BETTINA: [left center] Sorry I can't return the compliment.
MAZETTO: "Like mistress, like maid" proves true; only, if anything, I like your style a bit better than the Countess'.
BETTINA: [edging away from his arm] Pity you don't share the Chevalier's good looks. What's the matter with your arm?
MAZETTO: [trying to embrace her] It's nervous.
BETTINA: And you a brother of a holy order, too!
MAZETTO: Ah! But then you understand my vows were not so strict as the Chevalier's. Far from it.
[He seizes her and kisses her. She runs out, left, followed by Mazetto. Enter, right, Corisanda and Rosario.]
ROSARIO: We've eluded him, Countess.
CORISANDA: Ah, the General is experienced in pursuit.
ROSARIO: Madame, do you know you are maddeningly beautiful?
CORISANDA: Pray, Chevalier, admire my park all you please, but let my face be.
ROSARIO: Madame, in this world we admire what we must, whether we ought or not.
CORISANDA: But surely it is not permitted a Knight of Malta ....
ROSARIO: [hastily] Oh, beautiful Countess! I see you have a little misunderstood that matter of the vows.
[She happens to look back to the window, at which the face of Anselm appears.]
CORISANDA: [aside] Anselm! The impertinent meddler!
ROSARIO: [aside, also having perceived Anselm] The Count! Confound him! Fortunately his wife hasn't seen him.-- [Aloud.] Countess, if you will again enter the library, we may enjoy the view now more at leisure.
CORISANDA: Certainly, Chevalier. [She looks back at the window, from which the face of Anselm disappears.] This way! [They go out again, left.]
[Enter Anselm, right, out of breath and irritated.]
ANSELM: Where did they go? They have no shame! I'm eaten up with jealousy. [Calling loudly.] Corisanda! Oh, Corisanda!--I know well I'll lose the Countess favor forever, but love doesn't reason. [He calls into the door, left.] Corisanda! Where are you? Corisanda! Oh, you are there, my dear one!
CORISANDA: [entering] You are an insolent fool, Anselm. Go away! What do you mean?
ANSELML: [in a loud voice] No, my adored angel!
CORISANDA: [low voice] What? You deserve a thrashing, you impudent fellow!
ANSELM: [very loud] No, joy of my life! No!
CORISANDA: [low voice] I'll call the Chevalier and let him deal with you. [Calling.] Chevalier, here, if you please!
ANSELM: [low voice] Countess! You will involve yourself in great embarrassment.
[Enter Rosario, left.]
CORISANDA: [aloud] 'Tis well, sir. You are right. A thousand pardons, Chevalier. The General reminds me of an engagement. Pray excuse me. [Exit, right.]
ROSARIO: [striking Anselm on the shoulder] What the Countess told me is the fact, General?
ANSELM: What sir?
ROSARIO: Not only that the world believed you dead, but that you yourself shared in this tragic opinion?
ANSELM: Maybe so.
ROSARIO: You thought yourself dead, General? Very strange, indeed. But, shall I tell you? You don't seem to have recovered from that idea.
ANSELM: Possibly not.
ROSARIO: [taking off his coat] In that case, wouldn't it be just as well to bury you, by way of precaution? [He takes his sword into his hand.]
ANSELM: [coldly] Underling! [He goes out hastily, right.]
ROSARIO: [stupefied] What! Are you crazy? I've insulted you and you run away! Sir, you are ridiculous! [Louder.] General, you are a coward!-- [Alone.] Well, I'll be--I never knew the like in all my life--and he a general! [He puts on his coat. Noticing the desk, he sits and writes as follows:] "Madame, I have deceived you: I have made no eternal vow save that of loving you. The union which binds you is monstrous. I will say nothing of the General. Either he is an idiot, or his mind is so far unbalanced that he refuses to fight me. I will rescue you from this bondage. I will go to Rome, to the Pope. I will do anything that is necessary, but I will recover liberty for you. Then do with me as you will. Your husband or your slave, Rosario." [Calling.] Mazetto! [Enter Mazetto, left.] Take this to the Countess. [Exit Mazetto, right.] Oh, I am saved in this world and the next, if this woman will marry me. Thanks be to heaven for this second youth which I feel in my veins! O primitive faith, lost and sacred adoration, I feel you revive in my soul, and flood my heart!
MAZETTO: [returning] Sir, I met the Countess' servant, who was bringing this note from her mistress, and I gave her yours. That girl would make a musket fall in love!
ROSARIO: Go. [Exit Mazetto, left.]--[Reading.] "I have deceived you, Chevalier. The Count, my husband, is dead. I am free, but you are not. I will never see you again under any pretext. Adieu." Divine pity! She is free! And she loves me! [The Countess appears at door, right, holding the open letter of Rosario. He perceives her.] Oh, beloved vision! Tears, tears in your eyes! Oh, let me stop them forever!
CORISANDA: No, no let them flow, Chevalier! They are sweet. Come! [The Chevalier kneels at her feet, LC.] No, my friend, beside me; your hand in mine. Look into my eyes, since they please you. Talk to me of love, since I love you. Oh, my own, my own!
ROSARIO: [embracing her] Dear heart, how my mother will love you! The news that at last I love, love truly, blessedly, will make her happy. Oh, my darling--my life has not been all it should have been. Let me confess to you ...
CORISANDA: No--no. It would only be to waste words. Let the past be. The present is enough!
ROSARIO: Oh, how I love you, love you! Till the end of the world!
CORISANDA: Some little ceremony is necessary for that, Chevalier. I have a mother, too, and her presence here now would be advisable. Come, sit there, write to your mother; I will write here, to mine.
[Rosario sits at the desk, Corisanda at the table.]
ROSARIO: It's far away from you, here.
CORISANDA: Well, in that case, make haste.
ROSARIO: [writing] "My dear Mother"--
CORISANDA: [writing] "Beloved Mamma"--
ROSARIO: [aside, thoughtful] Yes, yes, I love her, certainly--very probably. I've spoken very feelingly to her.
CORISANDA: [aside] We shall be married. He wasn't a Knight of Malta, after all. That probably excited me.
ROSARIO: [looking at her, aside] Assuredly, she's a beauty. Her mind has some depth, too.
CORISANDA: [looking at him, aside] A good-looking man. His foot rather big: but a well-looking man.
ROSARIO: "My dear Mother."-- [Aside.] Who the devil can that pretended General be? She has a rather thin arm, like that of an actress I once knew.
CORISANDA: "Beloved Mamma." ... You're not writing, Chevalier?
ROSARIO: I ask your pardon. But when one wishes to be brief, one seeks the right word, and that takes time.-- [Aside.] That shadow on her upper lip, to an indifferent person, would look like a moustache. Her arm is certainly thin. [Pretends to write.]
CORISANDA: [aside] Somehow I don't feel very sure of him. He's had experiences. Do I really know anything about him? [Pretends to write.]
ROSARIO: She has seen life, this widow--for she is a widow ...
CORISANDA: Chevalier, you're not writing?
ROSARIO: It seems to me we're playing the same game, Countess: your paper is blank, too.
CORISANDA: Do you know, Monsieur de Rosario, that your hesitation could be given an ill interpretation?
ROSARIO: How about yours, Madame?
CORISANDA: [abruptly, after a pause] Chevalier, you have an enormous foot.
ROSARIO: [rising] It is a reproach, Countess, which your arm will never merit.
CORISANDA: Your hat, sir, is on the divan.
ROSARIO: [bowing] If the dream has been half as agreeable to you, Madame, as to me, you will pardon me the awakening, as I pardon it to you. Mazetto! Blood and death! Mazetto!
[Mazetto, redfaced, puts his head in at the door, left.]
MAZETTO: My lord, in heaven's name! In the name of all that's most sacred! Ten minutes more!
ROSARIO: [putting on his hat] Fool! Will you come, or not?
MAZETTO: [entering] Oh! My cursed luck! You are harder than rock, sir!
ROSARIO: There's your hat! We're off! [Exuent, right.]
CORISANDA: [seating herself languidly] Bettina! [Enter Bettina, left.] Hand me a novel, Bettina.... [Corisanda regards herself in her hand mirror.] ... Oh, how bored I am!