An apartment in the Cenci palace.
Enter Count Cenci and Cardinal Camillo.
CAMILLO: That matter of the murder is hushed up If you consent to yield his Holiness Your fief that lies beyond the Pincian gate.— It needed all my interest in the conclave To bend him to this point; he said that you Bought perilous impunity with your gold; That crimes like yours if once or twice compounded Enriched the Church, and respited from hell An erring soul which might repent and live: — But that the glory and the interest Of the high throne he fills, little consist With making it a daily mart of guilt As manifold and hideous as the deeds Which you scarce hide from men's revolted eyes.
CENCI: The third of my possessions—let it go! Ay, I once heard the nephew of the Pope Had sent his architect to view the ground, Meaning to build a villa on my vines The next time I compounded with his uncle: I little thought he should outwit me so! Henceforth no witness—not the lamp—shall see That which the vassal threatened to divulge Whose throat is choked with dust for his reward. The deed he saw could not have rated higher Than his most worthless life:—it angers me! Respited me from Hell! So may the Devil Respite their souls from Heaven! No doubt Pope Clement, And his most charitable nephews, pray That the Apostle Peter and the Saints Will grant for their sake that I long enjoy Strength, wealth, and pride, and lust, and length of days Wherein to act the deeds which are the stewards Of their revenue.—But much yet remains To which they show no title.
CAMILLO: Oh, Count Cenci! So much that thou mightst honourably live And reconcile thyself with thine own heart And with thy God, and with the offended world. How hideously look deeds of lust and blood Through those snow white and venerable hairs!— Your children should be sitting round you now, But that you fear to read upon their looks The shame and misery you have written there. Where is your wife? Where is your gentle daughter? Methinks her sweet looks, which make all things else Beauteous and glad, might kill the fiend within you. Why is she barred from all society But her own strange and uncomplaining wrongs? Talk with me, Count,—you know I mean you well. I stood beside your dark and fiery youth Watching its bold and bad career, as men Watch meteors, but it vanished not—I marked Your desperate and remorseless manhood; now Do I behold you in dishonoured age Charged with a thousand unrepented crimes. Yet I have ever hoped you would amend, And in that hope have saved your life three times.
CENCI: For which Aldobrandino owes you now My fief beyond the Pincian.—Cardinal, One thing, I pray you, recollect henceforth, And so we shall converse with less restraint. A man you knew spoke of my wife and daughter— He was accustomed to frequent my house; So the next day HIS wife and daughter came And asked if I had seen him; and I smiled: I think they never saw him any more.
CAMILLO: Thou execrable man, beware!—
CENCI: Of thee? Nay, this is idle: —We should know each other. As to my character for what men call crime Seeing I please my senses as I list, And vindicate that right with force or guile, It is a public matter, and I care not If I discuss it with you. I may speak Alike to you and my own conscious heart— For you give out that you have half reformed me, Therefore strong vanity will keep you silent If fear should not; both will, I do not doubt. All men delight in sensual luxury, All men enjoy revenge; and most exult Over the tortures they can never feel— Flattering their secret peace with others' pain. But I delight in nothing else. I love The sight of agony, and the sense of joy, When this shall be another's, and that mine. And I have no remorse and little fear, Which are, I think, the checks of other men. This mood has grown upon me, until now Any design my captious fancy makes The picture of its wish, and it forms none But such as men like you would start to know, Is as my natural food and rest debarred Until it be accomplished.
CAMILLO: Art thou not Most miserable?
CENCI: Why miserable?— No.—I am what your theologians call Hardened;—which they must be in impudence, So to revile a man's peculiar taste. True, I was happier than I am, while yet Manhood remained to act the thing I thought; While lust was sweeter than revenge; and now Invention palls:—Ay, we must all grow old— And but that there remains a deed to act Whose horror might make sharp an appetite Duller than mine—I'd do,—I know not what. When I was young I thought of nothing else But pleasure; and I fed on honey sweets: Men, by St. Thomas! cannot live like bees, And I grew tired:—yet, till I killed a foe, And heard his groans, and heard his children's groans, Knew I not what delight was else on earth, Which now delights me little. I the rather Look on such pangs as terror ill conceals, The dry fixed eyeball; the pale, quivering lip, Which tell me that the spirit weeps within Tears bitterer than the bloody sweat of Christ. I rarely kill the body, which preserves, Like a strong prison, the soul within my power, Wherein I feed it with the breath of fear For hourly pain.
CAMILLO: Hell's most abandoned fiend Did never, in the drunkenness of guilt, Speak to his heart as now you speak to me; I thank my God that I believe you not.
ANDREA: My Lord, a gentleman from Salamanca Would speak with you.
CENCI: Bid him attend me In the grand saloon.
CAMILLO: Farewell; and I will pray Almighty God that thy false, impious words Tempt not his spirit to abandon thee.
CENCI: The third of my possessions! I must use Close husbandry, or gold, the old man's sword, Falls from my withered hand. But yesterday There came an order from the Pope to make Fourfold provision for my cursed sons; Whom I had sent from Rome to Salamanca, Hoping some accident might cut them off; And meaning if I could to starve them there. I pray thee, God, send some quick death upon them! Bernardo and my wife could not be worse If dead and damned:—then, as to Beatrice— [LOOKING AROUND HIM SUSPICIOUSLY.] I think they cannot hear me at that door; What if they should? And yet I need not speak Though the heart triumphs with itself in words. O, thou most silent air, that shalt not hear What now I think! Thou, pavement, which I tread Towards her chamber,—let your echoes talk Of my imperious step scorning surprise, But not of my intent!—Andrea!
ANDREA: My lord?
CENCI: Bid Beatrice attend me in her chamber This evening:—no, at midnight and alone.