Princess Ida


   

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Dialogue following No. 21


Flourish. Enter Princess , armed, attended by Blanche and Psyche .

Princess. I like your spirit, girls! We have to meet
Stern bearded warriors in fight to-day;
Wear naught but what is necessary to
Preserve your dignity before their eyes,
And give your limbs full play.
Blanche. One moment, ma'am,
Here is a paradox we should not pass
Without inquiry. We are prone to say
‘This thing is Needful – that, Superfluous' –
Yet they invariably co-exist!
We find the Needful comprehended in
The circle of the grand Superfluous,
Yet the Superfluous cannot be bought
Unless you're amply furnished with the Needful.
These singular considerations are –
Princess. Superfluous, yet not Needful – so you see
The terms may independently exist.
(To Ladies) Women of Adamant, we have to show
That Woman, educated to the task,
Can meet Man, face to face, on his own ground,
And beat him there. Now, let us set to work;
Where is our lady surgeon?
Sacharissa.        Madam, here!
Princess. We shall require your skill to heal the wounds
Of those that fall.
Sacharissa. (alarmed)              What, heal the wounded?
Princess.               Yes!  
Sacharissa. And cut off real live legs and arms?
Princess.                      Of course!
Sacharissa. I wouldn't do it for a thousand pounds!
Princess. Why, how is this? Are you faint-hearted, girl?
You've often cut them off in theory!
Sacharissa. In theory I'll cut them off again
With pleasure, and as often as you like,
But not in practice.
 
Princess.              Coward! Get you hence,
  I've craft enough for that, and courage too,
I'll do your work! My fusiliers, advance!
Why, you are armed with axes! Gilded toys!
Where are your rifles, pray?
Chloe.         Why, please you, ma'am,
  We left them in the armoury, for fear
That in the heat and turmoil of the fight,
They might go off!
Princess.            ‘They might!' Oh, craven souls!
  Go off yourselves! Thank heaven I have a heart
That quails not at the thought of meeting men;
I will discharge your rifles! Off with you! (Exit Chloe.)
Where's my bandmistress?
Ada.         Please you, ma'am, the band
  Do not feel well, and can't come out today!
Princess. Why, this is flat rebellion! I've no time
To talk to them just now. But, happily,
I can play several instruments at once,
And I will drown the shrieks of those that fall
With trumpet music, such as soldiers love!
How stand we with respect to gunpowder?
My Lady Psyche – you who superintend
Our lab'ratory – are you well prepared
To blow these bearded rascals into shreds?
Psyche. Why, madam –      
Princess.        Well?      
Psyche.                   Let us try gentler means.  
  We can dispense with fulminating grains
While we have eyes with which to flash our rage!
We can dispense with villainous saltpetre
While we have tongues with which to blow them up!
We can dispense, in short, with all the arts
That brutalize the practical polemist!
Princess. (contemptuously) I never knew a more dispensing chemist!
Away, away – I'll meet these men alone
Since all my women have deserted me!

Exeunt all but Princess , singing refrain of ‘Please you, do not hurt us’, pianissimo.

Princess. So fail my cherished plans – so fails my faith –
And with it hope, and all that comes of hope!

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