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Pauline Pavlovna



SCENE: St. Petersburg. Period: the present time. A ballroom in the winter palace of the prince---. The ladies in character costumes and masks. The gentlement in official dress and unmasked, with the exception of six tall figures in scarlet kaftans, who are treated with marked distinction as they move here and there among the promenaders. Quadrille music throughout the dialogue.
Count SERGIUS PAVLOVICH PANSHINE, who has just arrived, is standing anxiously in the doorway of an antechamber with his eyes fixed upon the lady in the costume of a maid of honor in the time of Catharine II. The lady presently disengages herself from the crowd, and passes near count PANSHINE, who impulsively takes her by the hand and leads her across the threshold of the inner apartment, which is unoccupied.

HE.

Pauline!

SHE .

You knew me?

HE.

How could I have failed?
A mask may hide your features, not your soul.
There is an air about you like the air
That folds a star. A blind man knows the night,
And feels the constellations. No coarse sense
Of eye or ear had made you plain to me.
Through these I had not found you; for your eyes,
As blue as the violets of our Novgorod,
Look black behind your mask there, and your voice--
I had not known that either. My heart said,
"Pauline Pavlovna."

SHE.

Ah! your heart said that?
You trust your heart, then! 'T is a serious risk!--
How is it you and others wear no mask?
HE.

The Emperor's orders.

SHE.

Is the Emperor here?
I have not seen him.

HE.

He is one of the six
In scarlet kaftans and all masked alike.
Watch--you will note how every one bows down
Before these figures, thinking each by chance
May be the Tsar; yet none knows which he is.
Even his counterparts are left in doubt.
Unhappy Russia! No serf ever wore
Such chains as gall our emperor these sad days.
He dare trust no man.

SHE.

All men are so false.
HE.

Spare one, Pauline Pavlovna.

SHE.

No; all, all!
I think there is no truth left in the world,
In man or woman. Once were noble souls.--
Count Sergius, is Nastasia here to-night?

HE.

Ah! then you know! I thought to tell you first.
Not here, beneath these hundred curious eyes,
In all this glare of light; but in some place
Where I could throw me at your feet and weep.
In what shape came the story to your ear?
Decked in the teller's colors, I'll be sworn;
The truth, but in the livery of a lie,
And so must wrong me. Only this is true:
The Tsar, because I risked my wretched life
To shield a life as wretched as my own,
Bestows upon me, as supreme reward--
O irony--the hand of this poor girl.
Says, "Here, I have the pearl of pearls for you,
Such as was never plucked from out of the deep
By Indian diver, for a Sultan's crown.
Your joy's decreed, and stabs me with a smile.

SHE.

And she--she loves you?

HE.

I know not, indeed.
Likes me, Perhaps. What matters it?--her love!
The guardian, Sidor Yurievich consents,
And she consents. No love in it at all,
A mere caprice, a young girl's spring-tide dream.
Sick of ear-rings, weary of her mare,
She'll have a lover--something ready-made,
Or improvised between two cups of tea--
A lover by imperial ukase!
Fate said her word--I chanced to be the man!
If that grenade the crazy student threw
Had not spared me, as well as spared the Tsar,
All this would not have happened. I'd have been
A hero, but quite safe from her romance.
She takes me for a hero--think of that!
Now, by our holy Lady of Kazan,
When I have finished pitying myself,
I'll pity her.

SHE.

Oh no; begin with her;
She needs it most.

HE.

At her door lies the blame.
Whatever falls. She, with a single word
With half a tear, had stopt it at the first,
This cruel juggling with poor human hearts.

SHE.

The Tsar commanded it--you said the Tsar

HE.

The Tsar does what she wills--God fathoms why.
Were she his mistress, now! but there's no snow
Whiter within the bosom of a cloud,
Nor colder wither. She is very haughty,
For all her fragile air of gentleness;
With something vital in her, like those flowers
That on our desolate steppes outlast the year.
Resembles you in some things. It was that
First made us friends. I do her justice, see!
For we were friends in that smooth surface way
We Russians have imported out of France.
A
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

3:57 min read
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Thomas Bailey Aldrich

Thomas Bailey Aldrich was a poet novelist traveler and editor more…

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