David Bruce: John Ford’a THE LADY’S TRIAL: A Retelling — Act 4, Scene 1

— 4.1 —

Malfato and Spinella spoke together in a room in Malfato’s house. Malfato and Spinella were first cousins.

“You are safe here, my sad cousin,” Malfato said. “If you please, you may repeat the circumstances of what you recently discoursed. My ears are gladly open, for I myself am in such hearty league with solitary thoughts that pensive language charms my attention.”

Spinella said, “But by how much more in him my husband’s honors sparkle clearly, by so much more they tempt belief to credit the wreck and ruin of my injured name.”

When a man rises high, such as Lord Auria recently had, some people are tempted to pull him back down again. In Lord Auria’s case, they could do that by believing the gossip that was now being told about his wife, Spinella herself.

Malfato said, “Why, cousin, even if the earth would cleave to the roots of trees as they fell, the seas and heavens be mingled in disorder, your purity with unfrightened eyes might look intently at the uproar. It is the guilty who tremble at horrors, not the innocent. You’re cruel in censuring a liberty that is allowed.”

Which liberty? Gossip, which is free speech? Certainly, Malfato believed that Spinella’s good character would triumph over any malicious gossip told about her.

He continued, “Speak freely, gentle cousin. Was Lord Adurni importunately wanton?”

Spinella said, “He was in excess of entertainment; otherwise, he was not importunately wanton.”

Was she being deliberately kind in interpreting what had happened? Can an attempted seduction be regarded as a social invitation to an entertainment?

Malfato asked, “Not the boldness of an uncivil courtship?”

“What that meant I never understood,” Spinella said.

Sometimes, women pretend not to know things that they really know. They know these things privately, but pretend not to know them in their public life. Pretending ignorance is a way to maintain innocence.

She continued, “I have at once set bars between my best of earthly joys and the best of men — he is as excellent a man as lives without comparison; his love to me was matchless.”

The bars were between herself, and her husband: between her enjoyment of her husband, and her husband. She had separated herself from her husband.

Malfato said, “Yet, suppose, sweet cousin, that I could name a creature whose affection followed your Lord Auria in the height; affection to you, even to Spinella, affection as true and settled as ever Lord Auria’s was, can, is, or will be. You may not chide the story.”

Spinella said, “Fortune’s favorites are flattered, but the miserable are not flattered.”

Malfato now began to tell Spinella that he loved her:

“Listen to a strange tale, which thus the author sighed. A kinsman of Spinella — so it runs — her father’s sister’s son, some time before Auria the fortunate possessed her beauties, became enamored of such rare perfections as she was stored with.

“He fed his idle hopes with the possibilities of lawful conquest.

“He proposed — carefully considered — each difficulty in pursuit of what his vain supposal styled his own.

“He found in the argument only one flaw of conscience, which was the nearness of their bloods — they were first cousins. This was an unhappy scruple, but easily dispensed with, had any friend’s advice resolved the doubt.”

The word “doubt” can also mean “fear.” The friend could have disposed of the doubt and fear with his or her advice.

Malfato continued, “Still on he loved and loved, and wished and wished.

“Sometimes he began to speak, yet soon broke off, and still the fondling dared not — because he dared not.”

Spinella said, “It was wonderful.”

Malfato said, “Exceedingly wonderful, beyond all wonder, yet it is known for truth after her marriage, when nothing remained of expectation to such fruitless dotage.

“His reason then — now — then — could not reduce the violence of passion, although he vowed never to unlock that secret, and scarcely to her, Spinella herself; and in addition he resolved not to come near her presence, but to avoid all opportunities, however presented to him.”

Spinella said, “An understanding dulled by the infelicity of constant sorrow finds it difficult to take in and understand pregnant novelty and important news. My ears receive the words you utter, cousin, but my thoughts are fastened on another subject.”

Malfato said, “Can you embrace your own woes and make them so like a darling, and play the tyrant with a partner in them?”

Malfato was suffering from unrequited love, but Spinella was showing no pity to him.

He continued, “Then I am thankful for this opportunity: Urged by fatal and enjoined necessity to stand up in defense of injured virtue, I will against anyone — I except no one, including no person of quality and high rank — maintain all these suppositions about you to be misapplied, dishonest, false, and villainous.”

Spinella began, “Dear cousin, as you’re a gentleman —”

Malfato interrupted, “— I’ll bless that hand whose honorable pity seals the passport for my incessant turmoils to their rest.”

He was thinking of fighting a duel to defend her honor. Dying in the duel meant that his unhappiness would cease.

He continued, “If I prevail — which heaven forbid! — these ages that shall inherit ours may tell posterity that Spinella had Malfato for a kinsman. Future ages will be made jealous of her fame because of his noble love.”

“No more,” Spinella said. “I dare not hear it.”

“All is said,” Malfato said. “Henceforth a syllable shall never proceed from my unpleasant and unwelcome voice of amorous folly —”

The entrance of Castanna interrupted him.

Castanna said, “Your summons told me to come here; I have come.

“Sister, my sister, it was an unkind action not to take me along with thee.”

“Chide her for it,” Malfato said. “Castanna, this house is as freely yours as your father’s ever was.”

Castanna said, “We believe it to be so, although your recent strange aloofness had made us wonder —

“But for what reason, sister, do thou keep your silence and distance? Am I not welcome to thee?”

Spinella asked, “Is Auria safe and sound?

“Oh, please do not hear me call him ‘husband’ before thou can resolve what kind of wife his fury terms me, the runaway. Speak quickly. Yet do not — stop, Castanna — I am lost! His friend Aurelio has told him that I am a bad woman, and he, the good man, believes it.”

Castanna began, “Now, in truth —”

“Stop!” Spinella said. “My heart trembles — I perceive thy tongue is pregnant with ills, and hastens to tell those ill tidings.

“I would not treat Castanna so.

“First tell me, shortly and truly tell me, how he is.”

“He is in perfect health,” Castanna said.

“For that I give my thanks to Heaven,” Spinella said.

Malfato said to himself, “The world has not another wife like this.”

He then said to Spinella, “Cousin, you will not hear your sister speak, so much your strong emotion rules you.”

Spinella said, “I will listen now to what she pleases to tell me.

“Go on, Castanna.”

Castanna said, “Your most noble husband is deaf to all reports about you, and only grieves at the causeless absence of his soul’s love: Spinella.”

Malfato said to Spinella, “Why, see, cousin, now! This is good news!”

Spinella said, “It is good news indeed!”

Castanna said, “He will value no counsel and advice, he takes no pleasure in his greatness, he admits of no likelihood at all that you are living; if you were living, he’s certain that it would be impossible you could conceal your welcomes to him, because you are all one with him.

“But as for jealousy, suspicion, or mistrust concerning your dishonor, he both laughs at and scorns it.”

Spinella asked, “Does he?”

Lord Auria truly scorned such gossip about her.

Malfato said, “Therein Auria shows himself to deserve his happiness.”

Castanna said, “I think this news should cause some reaction in you, sister — you are not well.”

Spinella was quiet.

“Not well!” Malfato said.

Spinella said, “I am unworthy —”

Malfato asked, “Of whom? What? Why?”

Spinella said to Malfato, “Go, cousin.”

She said to her sister, “Come, Castanna.”

Malfato exited in one direction; Spinella and Castanna exited in another direction.

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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