FERDINAND VON WALTER enters in great excitement with an open letter
in his hand, and is met by a SERVANT.
FERDINAND. Is the marshal here?
SERVANT. My lord, his highness the president is inquiring for you.
FERDINAND. Fire and fury! I ask is the marshal here?
SERVANT. His honor is engaged at the faro-table, above stairs.
FERDINAND. Tell his honor, in the name of all the devils in hell, to make his appearance this instant!
FERDINAND (hastily reading the letter, at one moment seeming petrified with astonishment, at the next pacing the room with fury). Impossible! quite impossible! A form so heavenly cannot hide so devilish a heart. And yet!—and yet! Though all the angels of heaven should descend on earth and proclaim her innocence—though heaven and earth, the Creator and the created, should, with one accord, vouch for her innocence—it is her hand, her own hand! Treachery, monstrous, infernal treachery, such as humanity never before witnessed! This, then, was the reason she so resolutely opposed our flight! This it was—Oh, God! Now I awake from my dream! Now the veil is lifted! This, then, is why she surrendered with so much seeming heroism her claims on my affection, and all but cheated me with her saint-like demeanor! (He traverses the chamber rapidly, and then remains for some moments in deep thought.) To fathom my heart to its very core! To reciprocate every lofty sentiment, every gentle emotion, every fiery ebullition! To sympathize with every secret breathing of my soul! To study me even in her tears! To mount with me to the sublimest heights of passion—to brave with me, undaunted, each fearful precipice! God of heaven! And was all this deceit? mere grimace? Oh, if falsehood can assume so lovely an appearance of truth why has no devil yet lied himself back into heaven?
When I unfolded to her the dangers which threatened our affection, with what convincing artifice did the false one turn pale! With what overpowering dignity did she repulse my father's licentious scoffs! yet at that very moment the deceiver was conscious of her guilt! Nay, did she not even undergo the fiery ordeal of truth? Forsooth, the hypocrite fainted! What must now be thy language, sensibility, since coquettes faint? How wilt thou vindicate thyself, innocence?—for even strumpets faint?
She knows her power over me—she has seen through my very heart! My soul shone conspicuous in my eyes at the blush of her first kiss. And that she should have felt nothing! or perhaps felt only the triumph of her art; whilst my happy delirium fancied that in her I embraced a whole heaven, my wildest wishes were hushed! No thought but of her and eternity was present to my mind. Oh, God! and yet she felt nothing? Nothing? but that her artifice had triumphed! That her charms were flattered! Death and vengeance! Nothing, but that I was betrayed!
FERDINAND, the MARSHAL.
MARSHAL (tripping into the room). I am told, my dear baron, that you have expressed a wish——
FERDINAND (muttering to himself). To break your rascally neck. (Aloud.) Marshal, this letter must have dropped out of your pocket on parade. (With a malicious smile.) And I have been the fortunate finder.
FERDINAND. By a singular coincidence! Now, balance thy account with heaven!
MARSHAL. You quite alarm me, baron!
FERDINAND. Read it, sir, read it! (Turning from him.) If I am not good enough for a lover perhaps I may do for a pimp. (While the MARSHAL reads, FERDINAND goes to the wall and takes down the pistols.)
KALB (throws the letter upon the table, and rushes off). Confusion!
FERDINAND (leads him back by the arm). Wait a little, my dear marshal! The intelligence contained in that letter appears to be agreeable! The finder must have his reward. (Showing him the pistols.)
MARSHAL (starts back in alarm). Have you lost your senses, baron?
FERDINAND (in a terrible voice). I have more than enough left to rid the world of such a scoundrel as you! Choose one of these instantly! (He forces a pistol into the MARSHAL'S hand, and then draws out his handkerchief.) And now take the other end of this handkerchief! It was given me by the strumpet herself!
MARSHAL. What, shoot over the handkerchief? Baron, are you mad? What can you be thinking of?
FERDINAND. Lay hold of it, I say! or you will be sure to miss your aim, coward! How the coward trembles! You should thank God, you pitiful coward, that you have a chance for once of getting something in your empty brain-box. (The MARSHAL takes to his heels.) Gently, gently! I'll take care of that. (Overtakes him and bolts the door.)
MARSHAL. Surely you will not fight in the chamber?
FERDINAND. As if you were worth the trouble of a walk beyond the boundaries! The report, my dear fellow, will be louder, and, for the first time, you will make some noise in the world. Now, then, take hold!
MARSHAL (wiping his forehead). Yet consider, I entreat. Would you risk your precious life, young and promising as you are, in this desperate manner?
FERDINAND. Take hold, I say! I have nothing more to do in this world!
MARSHAL. But I have much, my dearest, most excellent friend!
FERDINAND. Thou, wretch—thou? What hast thou to do, but to play the stop-gap, where honest men keep aloof! To stretch or shrink seven times in an instant, like the butterfly on a pin? To be privy registrar in chief and clerk of the jordan? To be the cap-and-bell buffoon on which your master sharpens his wit? Well, well, let it be so. I will carry you about with me, as I would a marmot of rare training. You shall skip and dance, like a tamed monkey, to the howling of the damned; fetch, carry, and serve; and with your courtly arts enliven the wailings of everlasting despair!
MARSHAL. Anything you please, dear major! Whatever you please! Only take away the pistols!
FERDINAND. How he stands there, poor trembling wretch! There he stands, a blot on the sixth day of creation. He looks as if he were a piratical counterfeit of the Almighty original. Pity, eternal pity! that an atom of brains should lie wasting in so barren a skull! That single atom bestowed upon a baboon might have made him a perfect man, whereas it is now a mere useless fragment. And that she should share her heart with a thing like this! Monstrous! Incredible! A wretch more formed to wean from sin than to excite it!
MARSHAL. Praised be Heaven! he is getting witty.
FERDINAND. I will let him live! That toleration which spares the caterpillar shall be extended to him! Men shall look on him in wonder, and, shrugging their shoulders, admire the wise dispensation of Providence, which can feed its creatures with husks and scourings; which spreads the table for the raven on the gallows, and for the courtier in the slime of majesty. We wonder at the wisdom of Providence, which even in the world of spirits maintains its staff of venomous reptiles for the dissemination of poison. (Relapsing into rage.) But such vermin shall not pollute my rose; sooner will I crush it to atoms (seizing the MARSHAL and shaking him roughly), thus—and thus—and thus——
MARSHAL. Oh! God, that I were away from here! hundreds of miles away in the asylum for maniacs at Paris! Anywhere but near this man!
FERDINAND. Villain! If she be no longer pure! Villain! If thou hast profaned where I worshipped! (with increased fury). If thou hast polluted, where I believed myself the god! (Pausing suddenly; then in a solemn terrible voice.) It were better for thee, villain, to flee to hell, than to encounter my wrath in heaven! Confess! To what extent has your unhallowed love proceeded?
MARSHAL. Let me go! I will confess everything.
FERDINAND. Oh! it must be more rapturous even to be her licentious paramour than to burn with the purest flame for any other! Would she surrender her charms to unlicensed pleasure she might dissolve the soul itself to sin, and make voluptuousness pass for virtue (pressing his pistol against the MARSHAL'S breast). To what extremities have you proceeded? Confess this instant or I fire!
MARSHAL. There is nothing at all in it, I assure you! There is not a syllable of truth in the whole business! Have but a moment's patience! You are deceived, indeed you are!
FERDINAND (furiously). And dare you remind me of that, villain? To what extremities have you proceeded? Confess, or you are a dead man!
MARSHAL. Mon Dieu! My God! You mistake my words! Only listen for a moment. When a father——
FERDINAND (still more enraged). No doubt! He threw his daughter into your arms? And how far have you proceeded? Confess, or I will murder you!
MARSHAL. You rave! You will not listen! I never saw her! I don't know her! I know nothing at all about her!
FERDINAND (drawing back). You never saw her? You don't know her? Know nothing at all about her? Louisa is lost to me forever on thy account, and yet in one breath hast thou denied her thrice. Go, wretch, go (he gives him a blow with the pistol, and thrusts him out of the chamber); powder were thrown away on such a miscreant.
FERDINAND (after a long silence, during which his countenance declares him to be agitated by some dreadful idea). Forever lost? Yes, false unfortunate, both are lost! Ay, by the Almighty God! if I am lost, thou art so too. Judge of the world, ask her not from me! She is mine. For her sake I renounced the whole world—abandoned all thy glorious creation. Leave me the maid, great Judge of the world! Millions of souls pour out their plaints to thee—turn on them thine eye of compassion, but leave me, Almighty Judge—leave me to myself. (Clasping his hands in agony.) Can the bountiful, the munificent Creator be covetous of one miserable soul, and that soul the worst of his creation? The maiden is mine! Once I was her god, but now I am her devil!
(Fixes his eyes with terrible expression.)
An eternity passed with her upon the rack of everlasting perdition! Her melting eye-balls riveted on mine! Our blazing locks entwined together! Our shrieks of agony dissolving into one! And then to renew to her my vows of love, and chant unceasingly her broken oaths! God! God! The union is dreadful—and eternal! (As he is about to rush off, the PRESIDENT meets him.)
FERDINAND, the PRESIDENT.
FERDINAND (starting back). Ha! my father.
PRESIDENT. I am glad to meet with you, Ferdinand! I come to bring you some pleasant news—something that will certainly surprise you, my dear son. Shall we be seated?
FERDINAND (after gazing upon him for some time with a vacant stare). My father! (Going to him with emotion, and grasping his hand.) My father! (Kissing it, and falling at his feet.) Oh, father!
PRESIDENT. What is the matter? Rise, my son. Your hand burns and trembles!
FERDINAND (wildly). Forgive my ingratitude, father! I am a lost man! I have misinterpreted your kindness! Your meaning was so truly—truly paternal! Oh! you had a prophetic soul! Now it is too late! Pardon! pardon! Your blessing, my dear father!
PRESIDENT (feigning astonishment). Arise, my son! Recollect that your words to me are riddles!
FERDINAND. This Louisa, dear father! Oh! You understand mankind! Your anger was so just, so noble, so truly the zeal of a father! had not its very earnestness led you to mistake the way. This Louisa!
PRESIDENT. Spare me, dear boy! Curses on my severity! come to entreat your forgiveness——
FERDINAND. Forgiveness from me! Curse me rather. Your disapproval was wisdom! Your severity was heavenly mercy! This Louisa, father——
PRESIDENT. Is a noble, a lovely girl! I recall my too rash suspicions! She has won my entire esteem!
FERDINAND (starting up). What? You, too? Father, even you? And is she not, father, the very personification of innocence? And is it not so natural to love this maiden?
PRESIDENT. Say, rather, 'twere a crime not to love her.
FERDINAND. Incredible! wonderful! And you, too, who can so thoroughly see through the heart! And you, who saw her faults with the eyes of hatred! Oh, unexampled hypocrisy! This Louisa, father!
PRESIDENT. Is worthy to be my daughter! Her virtues supply the want of ancestry, her beauty the want of fortune. My prudential maxims yield to the force of your attachment. Louisa shall be yours!
FERDINAND. Naught but this wanting! Father, farewell! (Rushes out of the apartment.)
PRESIDENT (following him). Stay, my son, stay! Whither do you fly?
Enter LADY MILFORD and SOPHIA.
LADY MILFORD. You have seen her then? Will she come?
SOPHIA. Yes, in a moment! She was in dishabille, and only requested time to change her dress.
LADY MILFORD. Speak not of her. Silence! I tremble like a criminal at the prospect of beholding that fortunate woman whose heart sympathizes thus cruelly with my own. And how did she receive my invitation?
SOPHIA. She seemed surprised, became thoughtful, fixed her eyes on me steadfastly, and for a while remained silent. I was already prepared for her excuses, when she returned me this answer with a look that quite astonished me; "Tell your mistress that she commands what I myself intended to request to-morrow."
LADY MILFORD. Leave me, Sophia! Pity me! I must blush if she is but an ordinary woman—despair if she is more!
SOPHIA. But, my lady! it is not in this spirit that a rival should be received! Remember who you are! Summon to your aid your birth, your rank, your power! A prouder soul should heighten the gorgeous splendor of your appearance.
LADY MILFORD (in a fit of absence). What is the simpleton babbling about?
SOPHIA (maliciously). Or, is it, perhaps, by chance that to-day, in particular, you are adorned with your most costly brilliants? by chance that you are to-day arrayed in your most sumptuous robes? that your antechamber is crowded with guards and pages; and that the tradesman's daughter is to be received in the most stately apartment of the palace?
LADY MILFORD (angry and nettled). This is outrageous! Insupportable! Oh that woman should have such argus-eyes for woman's weakness! How low, how irretrievably low must I have fallen when such a creature has power to fathom me!
LADY MILFORD, SOPHIA, a SERVANT.
SERVANT (entering). Ma'mselle Miller waits.
LADY MILFORD (to SOPHIA). Hence with you! Leave the room instantly! (Imperiously, as the latter hesitates.) Must I repeat my orders? (SOPHIA retires—LADY MILFORD takes a few turns hastily.) So; 'tis well that I have been excited! I am in the fitter mood for this meeting. (To the SERVANT.) Let her approach.
[Exit SERVANT. LADY MILFORD throws herself upon the sofa,
and assumes a negligent but studied attitude.
LADY MILFORD, LOUISA.
LOUISA enters timidly, and remains standing at a great distance
from LADY MILFORD, who has turned her back towards her, and for
some time watches her attentively in the opposite looking-glass.
After a pause——-
LOUISA. Noble lady, I await your commands.
LADY MILFORD (turning towards LOUISA, and making a slight and distant motion with her head.) Oh! Are you there? I presume the young lady—a certain——. Pray what is your name?
LOUISA (somewhat sensitively). My father's name is Miller. Your ladyship expressed a wish to see his daughter.
LADY MILFORD. True, true! I remember. The poor musician's daughter, of whom we were speaking the other day. (Aside, after a pause.) Very interesting, but no beauty! (To LOUISA.) Come nearer, my child. (Again aside.) Eyes well practised in weeping. Oh! How I love those eyes! (Aloud.) Nearer—come nearer! Quite close! I really think, my good child, that you are afraid of me!
LOUISA (with firmness and dignity). No, my lady—I despise the opinion of the multitude!
LADY MILFORD (aside). Well, to be sure! She has learnt this boldness from him. (To LOUISA.) You have been recommended to me, miss! I am told that you have been decently educated, and are well disposed. I can readily believe it; besides, I would not, for the world, doubt the word of so warm an advocate.
LOUISA. And yet I remember no one, my lady, who would be at the trouble to seek your ladyship's patronage for me!
LADY MILFORD (significantly). Does that imply my unworthiness, or your humility?
LOUISA. Your words are beyond my comprehension, lady.
LADY MILFORD. More cunning than I should have expected from that open countenance. (To LOUISA.) Your name is Louisa, I believe? May I inquire your age?
LOUISA. Sixteen, just turned.
LADY MILFORD (starting up). Ha! There it is! Sixteen! The first pulsation of love! The first sweet vibration upon the yet unsounded harp! Nothing is more fascinating. (To LOUISA.) Be seated, lovely girl—I am anxious about you. (To herself.) And he, too, loves for the first time! What wonder, if the ruddy morning beams should meet and blend? (To LOUISA, taking her hand affectionately.) 'Tis settled: I will make your fortune. (To herself.) Oh! there is nothing in it: nothing, but the sweet transient vision of youth! (To LOUISA, patting her on the cheek.) My Sophy is on the point of leaving me to be married: you shall have her place. But just sixteen? Oh! it can never last.
LOUISA (kissing her hand respectfully). Receive my thanks, lady, for your intended favors, and believe me not the less grateful though I may decline to accept them.
LADY MILFORD (relapsing into disdain and anger). Only hear the great lady! Girls of your station generally think themselves fortunate to obtain such promotion. What is your dependence, my dainty one? Are these fingers too delicate for work?—or is it your pretty baby-face that makes you give yourself these airs?
LOUISA. My face, lady, is as little of my own choice as my station!
LADY MILFORD. Perhaps you believe that your beauty will last forever? Poor creature! Whoever put that into your head—be he who he may—has deceived both you and himself! The colors of those cheeks are not burnt in with fire: what your mirror passes off upon you as solid and enduring is but a slight tinselling, which, sooner or later, will rub off in the hands of the purchaser. What then, will you do?
LOUISA. Pity the purchaser, lady, who bought a diamond because it appeared to be set in gold.
LADY MILFORD (affecting not to hear her). A damsel of your age has ever two mirrors, the real one, and her admirer. The flattering complaisance of the latter counterbalances the rough honesty of the former. What the one proclaims frightful pock-marks, the other declares to be dimples that would adorn the Graces. The credulous maid believes only so much of the former as is confirmed by the latter, and hies from one to the other till she confounds their testimonies, and concludes by fancying them to be both of one opinion. Why do you stare at me so?
LOUISA. Pardon me, lady! I was just then pitying those gorgeous sparkling brilliants, which are unconscious that their possessor is so strenuous a foe to vanity.
LADY MILFORD (reddening). No evasion, miss. Were it not that you depend upon personal attractions, what in the world could induce you to reject a situation, the only one where you can acquire polish of manners and divest yourself of your plebeian prejudices?
LOUISA. And with them, I presume, my plebeian innocence!
LADY MILFORD. Preposterous objection! The most dissolute libertine dares not to disrespect our sex, unless we ourselves encourage him by advances. Prove what you are; make manifest your virtue and honor, and I will guarantee your innocence from danger.
LOUISA. Of that, lady, permit me to entertain a doubt! The palaces of certain ladies are but too often made a theatre for the most unbridled licentiousness. Who will believe that a poor musician's daughter could have the heroism to plunge into the midst of contagion and yet preserve herself untainted? Who will believe that Lady Milford would perpetually hold a scorpion to her breast, and lavish her wealth to purchase the advantage of every moment feeling her cheeks dyed with the crimson blush of shame? I will be frank, lady!—while I adorned you for some assignation, could you meet my eye unabashed? Could you endure my glance when you returned? Oh! better, far better, would it be that oceans should roll between us—that we should inhabit different climes! Beware, my lady!—hours of temperance, moments of satiety might intrude; the gnawing worm of remorse might plant its sting in your bosom, and then what a torment would it be for you to read in the countenance of your handmaid that calm serenity with which virtue ever rewards an uncorrupted heart! (Retiring a few steps.) Once more, gracious lady, I entreat your pardon!
LADY MILFORD (extremely agitated). Insupportable, that she should tell me this! Still more insupportable, that what she tells is true! (Turning to LOUISA, and looking at her steadfastly.) Girl! girl! this artifice does not blind me. Mere opinions do not speak out so warmly. Beneath the cloak of these sentiments lurks some far dearer interest. 'Tis that which makes my service particularly distasteful—which gives such energy to your language. (In a threatening voice.) What it is I am determined to discover.
LOUISA (with calm dignity). And what if you do discover it? Suppose the contemptuous trampling of your foot should rouse the injured worm, which its Creator has furnished with a sting to protect it against misusage. I fear not your vengeance, lady! The poor criminal extended on the rack can look unappalled even on the dissolution of the world. My misery is so exquisite that even sincerity cannot draw down upon me any further infliction! (After a pause.) You say that you would raise me from the obscurity of my station. I will not examine the motives of this suspicious favor. I will only ask, what could induce you to think me so foolish as to blush at my station? What could induce you to become the architect of my happiness, before you knew whether I was willing to receive that happiness at your hands? I had forever renounced all claims upon the pleasures of the world. I had forgiven fortune that she had dealt with me so niggardly. Ah! why do you remind me of all this. If the Almighty himself hides his glory from the eyes of his creatures, lest the highest seraph should be overwhelmed by a sense of his own insignificance, why should mortals be so cruelly compassionate? Lady, lady! why is your vaunted happiness so anxious to excite the envy and wonder of the wretched? Does your bliss stand in need of the exhibition of despair for entertainment? Oh! rather grant me that blindness which alone can reconcile me to my barbarous lot! The insect feels itself as happy in a drop of water as though that drop was a paradise: so happy, and so contented! till some one tells it of a world of water, where navies ride and whales disport themselves! But you wish to make me happy, say you? (After a pause, she advances towards LADY MILFORD, and asks her suddenly.) Are you happy, lady? (LADY MILFORD turns from her hastily, and overpowered. LOUISA follows her, and lays her hand upon her bosom.) Does this heart wear the smile of its station? Could we now exchange breast for breast, and fate for fate—were I, in childlike innocence, to ask you on your conscience—were I to ask you as a mother— would you really counsel me to make the exchange?
LADY MILFORD (greatly excited, throwing herself on the sofa). Intolerable! Incomprehensible! No, Louisa, no! This greatness of thought is not your own, and your conceptions are too fiery, too full of youth, to be inspired by your father. Deceive me not! I detect another teacher——
LOUISA (looking piercingly at her). I cannot but wonder, my lady, that you should have only just discovered that other teacher, and yet have previously shown so much anxiety to patronize me!
LADY MILFORD (starting up). 'Tis not to be borne! Well, then, since I cannot escape you, I know him—know everything—know more than I wish to know! (Suddenly restraining herself, then continuing with a violence which by degrees increases to frenzy.) But dare, unhappy one!—dare but still to love, or be beloved by him! What did I say? Dare but to think of him, or to be one of his thoughts! I am powerful, unhappy one!— dreadful in my vengeance! As sure as there is a God in heaven thou art lost forever!
LOUISA (undaunted). Past all redemption, my lady, the moment you succeed in compelling him to love you!
LADY MILFORD. I understand you—but I care not for his love! I will conquer this disgraceful passion. I will torture my own heart; but thine will I crush to atoms! Rocks and chasms will I hurl between you. I will rush, like a fury, into the heaven of your joys. My name shall affright your loves as a spectre scares an assassin. That young and blooming form in his embrace shall wither to a skeleton. I cannot be blest with him— neither shalt thou. Know, wretched girl; that to blast the happiness of others is in itself a happiness!
LOUISA. A happiness, my lady, which is already beyond your reach! Seek not to deceive your own heart! You are incapable of executing what you threaten! You are incapable of torturing a being who has done you no wrong—but whose misfortune it is that her feelings have been sensible to impressions like your own. But I love you for these transports, my lady!
LADY MILFORD (recovering herself). Where am I? What have I done? What sentiments have I betrayed? To whom have I betrayed them? Oh, Louisa, noble, great, divine soul, forgive the ravings of a maniac! Fear not, my child! I will not injure a hair of thy head! Name thy wishes! Ask what thou wilt! I will serve thee with all my power; I will be thy friend— thy sister! Thou art poor; look (taking off her brilliants), I will sell these jewels—sell my wardrobe—my carriages and horses—all shall be thine—grant me but Ferdinand!
LOUISA (draws back indignantly). Does she mock my despair?—or is she really innocent of participation in that cruel deed? Ha! then I may yet assume the heroine, and make my surrender of him pass for a sacrifice! (Remains for a while absorbed in thought, then approaches LADY MILFORD, seizes her hand, and gazes on her with a fixed and significant look.) Take him, lady! I here voluntarily resign the man whom hellish arts have torn from my bleeding bosom! Perchance you know it not, my lady! but you have destroyed the paradise of two lovers; you have torn asunder two hearts which God had linked together; you have crushed a creature not less dear to him than yourself, and no less created for happiness; one by whom he was worshipped as sincerely as by you; but who, henceforth, will worship him no more. But the Almighty is ever open to receive the last groan of the trampled worm. He will not look on with indifference when creatures in his keeping are murdered. Now Ferdinand is yours. Take him, lady, take him! Rush into his arms! Drag him with you to the altar! But forget not that the spectre of a suicide will rush between you and the bridal kiss. God be merciful! No choice is left me! (Rushes out of the chamber.)
LADY MILFORD alone, in extreme agitation, gazing on the door by
which LOUISA left. At length she recovers from her stupor.
LADY MILFORD. What was that? What preys so on my heart? What said the unhappy one? Still, O heaven, the dreadful, damning words ring in my ears! "Take him! Take him!" What should I take, unfortunate? the bequest of your dying groan—the fearful legacy of your despair? Gracious heaven! am I then fallen so low? Am I so suddenly hurled from the towering throne of my pride that I greedily await what a beggar's generosity may throw me in the last struggle of death? "Take him! Take him!" And with what a tone was it uttered!—with what a look! What! Amelia! is it for this thou hast overleaped the bounds of thy sex? For this didst thou vaunt the glorious title of a free-born Briton, that thy boasted edifice of honor might sink before the nobler soul of a despised and lowly maiden? No, proud unfortunate! No! Amelia Milford may blush for shame,—but shall never be despised. I, too, have courage to resign. (She walks a few paces with a majestic gait.) Hide thyself, weak, suffering woman! Hence, ye sweet and golden dreams of love! Magnanimity alone be now my guide. These lovers are lost, or Amelia must withdraw her claim, and renounce the prince's heart. (After a pause, with animation.) It is determined! The dreadful obstacle is removed—broken are the bonds which bound me to the duke—torn from my bosom this raging passion. Virtue, into thy arms I throw myself. Receive thy repentant daughter. Ha! how happy do I feel! How suddenly relieved my heart, and how exalted! Glorious as the setting sun, will I this day descend from the pinnacle of my greatness; my grandeur shall expire with my love, and my own heart be the only sharer of my proud exile! (Going to her writing-table with a determined air.) It must be done at once—now, on the spot—before the recollection of Ferdinand renews the cruel conflict in my bosom! (She seats herself, and begins to write).
LADY MILFORD, an ATTENDANT, SOPHIA, afterwards the MARSHAL,
and then SERVANTS.
SERVANT. Marshal von Kalb is in the ante-chamber, and brings a message from his highness.
LADY MILFORD (not hearing him in the eagerness of writing). How the illustrious puppet will stare! The idea is singular enough, I own, the presuming to astonish his serene numskull. In what confusion will his court be thrown! The whole country will be in a ferment.
SERVANT and SOPHIA. Marshal von Kalb, my lady!
LADY MILFORD (turning round). Who? the marshal? So much the better! Such creatures were designed by nature to carry the ass' panniers.
SOPHIA (approaching anxiously). If I were not fearful, my lady, that you would think it presumption. (LADY MILFORD continuing to write eagerly.) Louisa Miller rushed madly to the hall—you are agitated—you speak to yourself. (LADY MILFORD continues writing.) I am quite alarmed. What can have happened? (The MARSHAL enters, making repeated bows at LADY MILFORD'S back; as she takes no notice of him, he comes nearer, stands behind her chair, touches the hem of her dress, and imprints a kiss on it, saying in a tremulous voice.) His serene highness——
LADY MILFORD (while she peruses hastily what she has written). He will tax me with black ingratitude! "I was poor and forsaken! He raised me from misery! From misery." Detestable exchange! Annul my bond, seducer! The blush of my eternal shame repays my debt with interest.
MARSHAL (after endeavoring in vain to catch her eye). Your ladyship seems somewhat absent. I take the liberty of permitting myself the boldness (very loud)—his serene highness, my lady, has sent me to inquire whether you mean to honor this evening's gala with your presence, or the theatre?
LADY MILFORD (rising, with a laugh). One or the other, sweet sir. In the meantime take this paper to your duke for his dessert. (To SOPHIA.) Do you, Sophia, give directions to have my carriage brought to the door without delay, and call my whole household together in this saloon.
SOPHIA (goes out in great astonishment). Heavens! What do I forebode? What will this end in?
MARSHAL. You seem excited, my lady!
LADY MILFORD. The greater the chance of my letting you into a little truth. Rejoice, my Lord Marshal! There is a place vacant at court. A fine time for panders. (As the MARSHAL throws a look of suspicion upon the paper.) Read it, read it! 'Tis my desire that the contents should be made public. (While he reads it, the domestics enter, and range themselves in the background.)
MARSHAL (reading). "Your highness—an engagement, broken by you so lightly, can no longer be binding on me. The happiness of your subjects was the condition of my love. For three years the deception has lasted. The veil at length falls from my eyes! I look with disgust on favors which are stained with the tears of your subjects. Bestow the love which I can no longer accept upon your weeping country, and learn from a British princess compassion to your German people. Within an hour I shall have quitted your dominions. JOANNA NORFOLK"
SERVANTS (exclaiming to each other in astonishment). Quitted the dominions!
MARSHAL (replaces the letter upon the table in terror). God forbid, my dear and most excellent lady! The bearer of such a letter would be as mad as the writer!
LADY MILFORD. That is your concern, you pink of a courtier! Alas! I am sorry to know that you, and such as you, would choke even in the utterance of what others dare to do. My advice is that you bake the letter in a venison pasty, so that his most serene highness may find it on his plate!
MARSHAL. God preserve me! What presumption! Ponder well, I entreat you. Reflect on the disgrace which you will bring down upon yourself, my lady!
LADY MILFORD (turning to the assembled domestics, and addressing them in the deepest emotion). You seem amazed, good people; and anxiously awaiting the solution of this riddle? Draw nearer, my friends! You have served me truly and affectionately; have looked into my eyes rather than my purse. My pleasure was your study, my approbation your pride! Woe is me, that the remembrance of your fidelity must be the record of my unworthiness! Unhappy fate, that the darkest season of my life should have been the brightest of yours! (Her eyes suffused with tears.) We must part, my children. Lady Milford has ceased to exist, and Joanna of Norfolk is too poor to repay your love. What little wealth I have my treasurer will share among you. This palace belongs to the duke. The poorest of you will quit it far richer than his mistress! Farewell, my children! (She extends her hand, which they all in turn kiss, with marks of sorrow and affection.) I understand you, my good people! Farewell! forever farewell! (Struggling with her feelings.) I hear the carriage at the door. (She tears herself away, and is hurrying out when the MARSHAL arrests her progress.) How, now? Pitiful creature, art thou still there?
MARSHAL (who all this while has been gazing in vacant astonishment at the letter). And must I be the person to put this letter into the most august hands of his most serene highness?
LADY MILFORD. Pitiful creature, even thou! Thou must deliver into his most august hands, and convey to his most august ears, that, as I cannot go barefoot to Loretto, I will support myself by the labor of my hands, that I may be purified from the disgrace of having condescended to rule him. (She hurries off—the rest silently disperse.)