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.
“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.
Thomas Bailey Aldrich, ‘Pauline Pavlona’ (1891), extract.
‘Pauline Pavlona’ is a one-act drama set in contemporary St Petersburg, included in Aldrich’s collection The Sister’s Tragedy, with Other Poems, Lyrical and Dramatic (1891). The words are spoken to Pauline by Count Sergius Pavlovich Panshine.