Princess Ida


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Dialogue following No. 6

Enter Hildebrand, Hilarion, Cyril and Florian .


So this is Castle Hildebrand? Well, well!
Dame Rumour whispered that the place was grand;
She told me that your taste was exquisite,
Superb, unparalleled!

Hildebrand. (gratified) Oh, really, King!

But she’s a liar! Why, how old you’ve grown!
Is this Hilarion? Why, you’ve changed too –
You were a singularly handsome child!
(To Florian.) Are you a courtier? Come, then, ply your trade,
Tell me some lies. How do you like your King?
Vile rumour says he’s all but imbecile.
Now, that’s not true?

Florian.   My lord, we love our King.

His wise remarks are valued by his court
As precious stones.

Gama.   And for the self-same cause.

Like precious stones, his sensible remarks
Derive their value from their scarcity!
Come now, be honest, tell the truth for once!
Tell it of me. Come, come, I’ll harm you not.
This leg is crooked – this foot is ill-designed –
This shoulder wears a hump! Come, out with it!
Look, here’s my face! Now, am I not the worst
Of Nature’s blunders?

Cyril.   Nature never errs.

To those who know the workings of your mind,
Your face and figure, sir, suggest a book
Appropriately bound.

Gama. (enraged) Why, hark ye, sir,
  How dare you bandy words with me?
Cyril.   No need
  To bandy aught that appertains to you.
Gama. (furiously) Do you permit this, King?
Hildebrand.   We are in doubt

Whether to treat you as an honoured guest
Or as a traitor knave who plights his word
And breaks it.

Gama. (quickly) If the casting vote’s with me,
  I give it for the former!
Hildebrand.   We shall see.

By the terms of our contract, signed and sealed,
You’re bound to bring the Princess here to-day:
Why is she not with you?

Gama.   Answer me this:

What think you of a wealthy purse-proud man,
Who, when he calls upon a starving friend,
Pulls out his gold and flourishes his notes,
And flashes diamonds in the pauper’s eyes?
What name have you for such an one?

Hildebrand.   A snob.

Just so. The girl has beauty, virtue, wit,
Grace, humour, wisdom, charity and pluck.
Would it be kindly, think you, to parade
These brilliant qualities before your eyes?
Oh no, King Hildebrand, I am no snob!


(furiously) Stop that tongue,
Or you shall lose the monkey head that holds it!


Bravo! Your King deprives me of my head,
That he and I may meet on equal terms!

Hildebrand. Where is she now?
Gama.   In Castle Adamant,

One of my many country houses. There
She rules a woman’s University,
With full a hundred girls, who learn of her.

Cyril. A hundred girls! A hundred ecstasies!

But no mere girls, my good young gentleman;
With all the college learning that you boast,
The youngest there will prove a match for you.

Cyril. With all my heart, if she’s the prettiest!
  (To Florian.) Fancy, a hundred matches – all alight! –
That’s if I strike them as I hope to do!

Despair your hope; their hearts are dead to men.
He who desires to gain their favour must
Be qualified to strike their teeming brains,
And not their hearts. They’re safety matches, sir,
And they light only on the knowledge box –
So you’ve no chance!

Florian. And there are no males whatever in those walls?

None, gentlemen, excepting letter mails –
And they are driven (as males often are
In other large communities) by women.
Why, bless my heart, she’s so particular
She’ll hardly suffer Dr. Watts’s hymns –
And all the animals she owns are “hers”!
The ladies rise at cockcrow every morn –

Cyril. Ah, then they have male poultry?
Gama.   Not at all,
  (confidentially) The crowing’s done by an accomplished hen!

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