PRESIDENT VON WALTER, Prime Minister in the Court of a German Prince.
FERDINAND, his son; a Major in the Army; in love with Louisa Miller.
BARON VON KALB, Court Marshal (or Chamberlain).
WORM, Private Secretary to the President.
MILLER, the Town Musician, and Teacher of Music.
MRS. MILLER, his wife.
LOUISA, the daughter of Miller, in love with Ferdinand.
LADY MILFORD, the Prince's Mistress.
SOPHY, attendant on Lady Milford.
An old Valet in the service of the Prince.
Officers, Attendants, etc.
MILLER – MRS. MILLER.
MILLER (walking quickly up and down the room). Once for all! The affair is becoming serious. My daughter and the baron will soon be the town-talk – my house lose its character – the president will get wind of it, and – the short and long of the matter is, I'll show the younker the door.
MRS MILLER. You did not entice him to your house – did not thrust your daughter upon him!
MILLER. Didn't entice him to my house – didn't thrust the girl upon him! Who'll believe me? I was master of my own house. I ought to have taken more care of my daughter. I should have bundled the major out at once, or have gone straight to his excellency, his papa, and disclosed all. The young baron will get off merely with a snubbing, I know that well enough, and all the blame will fall upon the fiddler.
MRS MILLER (sipping her coffee). Pooh! nonsense! How can it fall upon you? What have people to do with you? You follow your profession, and pick up pupils wherever you can find them.
MILLER. All very fine, but please to tell me what will be the upshot of the whole affair? He can't marry the girl – marriage is out of the question, and to make her his – God help us! "Good-by t'ye!" No, no – when such a sprig of nobility has been nibbling here and there and everywhere, and has glutted himself with the devil knows what all, of course it will be a relish to my young gentleman to get a mouthful of sweet water. Take heed! Take heed! If you were dotted with eyes, and could place a sentinel for every hair of your head, he'll bamboozle her under your very nose; add one to her reckoning, take himself off, and the girl's ruined for life, left in the lurch, or, having once tasted the trade, will carry it on. (Striking his forehead.) Oh, horrible thought!
MRS MILLER. God in his mercy protect us!
MILLER. We shall want his protection. You may well say that. What other object can such a scapegrace have? The girl is handsome – well made – can show a pretty foot. How the upper story is furnished matters little. That's blinked in you women if nature has not played the niggard in other respects. Let this harum-scarum but turn over this chapter – ho! ho! his eyes will glisten like Rodney's when he got scent of a French frigate; then up with all sail and at her, and I don't blame him for it – flesh is flesh. I know that very well.
MRS MILLER. You should only read the beautiful billy-doux which the baron writes to your daughter. Gracious me! Why it's as clear as the sun at noonday that he loves her purely for her virtuous soul.
MILLER. That's the right strain! We beat the sack, but mean the ass's back. He who wishes to pay his respects to the flesh needs only a kind heart for a go-between. What did I myself? When we've once so far cleared the ground that the affections cry ready! slap! the bodies follow their example, the appetites are obedient, and the silver moon kindly plays the pimp.
MRS MILLER. And then only think of the beautiful books that the major has sent us. Your daughter always prays out of them.
MILLER (whistles). Prays! You've hit the mark. The plain, simple food of nature is much too raw and indigestible for this maccaroni gentleman's stomach. It must be cooked for him artificially in the infernal pestilential pitcher of your novel-writers. Into the fire with the rubbish! I shall have the girl taking up with – God knows what all – about heavenly fooleries that will get into her blood, like Spanish flies, and scatter to the winds the handful of Christianity that cost her father so much trouble to keep together. Into the fire with them I say! The girl will take the devil's own nonsense into her head; amidst the dreams of her fool's paradise she'll not know her own home, but forget and feel ashamed of her father, the music-master; and, lastly, I shall lose a worthy, honest son-in-law who might have nestled himself so snugly into my connections. No! damn it! (Jumps up in a passion.) I'll break the neck of it at once, and the major – yes, yes, the major! shall be shown where the carpenter made the door. (Going.)
MRS MILLER. Be civil, Miller! How many a bright shilling have his presents —
MILLER (comes back, and goes up to her). The blood money of my daughter? To Beelzebub with thee, thou infamous bawd! Sooner will I vagabondize with my violin and fiddle for a bit of bread – sooner will I break to pieces my instrument and carry dung on the sounding-board than taste a mouthful earned by my only child at the price of her soul and future happiness. Give up your cursed coffee and snuff-taking, and there will be no need to carry your daughter's face to market. I have always had my bellyful and a good shirt to my back before this confounded scamp put his nose into my crib.
MRS MILLER. Now don't be so ready to pitch the house out of window. How you flare up all of a sudden. I only meant to say that we shouldn't offend the major, because he is the son of the president.
MILLER. There lies the root of the mischief. For that reason – for that very reason the thing must be put a stop to this very day! The president, if he is a just and upright father, will give me his thanks. You must brush up my red plush, and I will go straight to his excellency. I shall say to him, – "Your excellency's son has an eye to my daughter; my daughter is not good enough to be your excellency's son's wife, but too good to be your excellency's son's strumpet, and there's an end of the matter. My name is Miller."
Enter SECRETARY WORM.
MRS MILLER. Ah! Good morning, Mr. Seckertary! Have we indeed the pleasure of seeing you again?
WORM. All on my side – on my side, cousin Miller! Where a high-born cavalier's visits are received mine can be of no account whatever.
MRS MILLER. How can you think so, Mr. Seckertary? His lordship the baron, Major Ferdinand, certainly does us the honor to look in now and then; but, for all that, we don't undervalue others.
MILLER (vexed). A chair, wife, for the gentleman! Be seated, kinsman.
WORM (lays aside hat and stick, and seats himself). Well, well – and how then is my future – or past – bride? I hope she'll not be – may I not have the honor of seeing – Miss Louisa?
MRS MILLER. Thanks for inquiries, Mr. Seckertary, but my daughter is not at all proud.
MILLER (angry, jogs her with his elbow). Woman!
MRS MILLER. Sorry she can't have that honor, Mr. Seckertary. My daughter is now at mass.
WORM. I am glad to hear it, – glad to hear it. I shall have in her a pious, Christian wife!
MRS MILLER (smiling in a stupidly affected manner). Yes – but, Mr. Seckertary —
MILLER (greatly incensed, pulls her ears). Woman!
MRS MILLER. If our family can serve you in any other way – with the greatest pleasure, Mr. Seckertary —
WORM (frowning angrily). In any other way? Much obliged! much obliged! – hm! hm! hm!
MRS MILLER. But, as you yourself must see, Mr. Seckertary —
MILLER (in a rage, shaking his fist at her). Woman!
MRS MILLER. Good is good, and better is better, and one does not like to stand between fortune and one's only child (with vulgar pride). You understand me, Mr. Seckertary?
WORM. Understand. Not exac – . Oh, yes. But what do you really mean?
MRS MILLER. Why – why – I only think – I mean – (coughs). Since then Providence has determined to make a great lady of my daughter —
WORM (jumping from his chair). What's that you say? what?
MILLER. Keep your seat, keep your seat, Mr. Secretary! The woman's an out-and-out fool! Where's the great lady to come from? How you show your donkey's ears by talking such stuff.
MRS MILLER. Scold as long as you will. I know what I know, and what the major said he said.
MILLER (snatches up his fiddle in anger). Will you hold your tongue? Shall I throw my fiddle at your head? What can you know? What can he have said? Take no notice of her clack, kinsman! Away with you to your kitchen! You'll not think me first cousin of a fool, and that I'm looking out so high for the girl? You'll not think that of me, Mr. Secretary?
WORM. Nor have I deserved it of you, Mr. Miller! You have always shown yourself a man of your word, and my contract to your daughter was as good as signed. I hold an office that will maintain a thrifty manager; the president befriends me; the door to advancement is open to me whenever I may choose to take advantage of it. You see that my intentions towards Miss Louisa are serious; if you have been won over by a fop of rank —
MRS MILLER. Mr. Seckertary! more respect, I beg —
MILLER. Hold your tongue, I say. Never mind her, kinsman. Things remain as they were. The answer I gave you last harvest, I repeat to-day. I'll not force my daughter. If you suit her, well and good; then it's for her to see that she can be happy with you. If she shakes her head – still better – be it so, I should say – then you must be content to pocket the refusal, and part in good fellowship over a bottle with her father. 'Tis the girl who is to live with you – not I. Why should I, out of sheer caprice, fasten a husband upon the girl for whom she has no inclination? That the evil one may haunt me down like a wild beast in my old age – that in every drop I drink – in every bit of bread I bite, I might swallow the bitter reproach: Thou art the villain who destroyed his child's happiness!
MRS MILLER. The short and the long of it is – I refuse my consent downright; my daughter's intended for a lofty station, and I'll go to law if my husband is going to be talked over.
MILLER. Shall I break every bone in your body, you millclack?
WORM (to MILLER). Paternal advice goes a great way with the daughter, and I hope you know me, Mr. Miller?
MILLER. Plague take you! 'Tis the girl must know you. What an old crabstick like me can see in you is just the very last thing that a dainty young girl wants. I'll tell you to a hair if you're the man for an orchestra – but a woman's heart is far too deep for a music-master. And then, to be frank with you – you know that I'm a blunt, straightforward fellow – you'll not give thank'ye for my advice. I'll persuade my daughter to no one – but from you Mr. Sec – I would dissuade her! A lover who calls upon the father for help – with permission – is not worth a pinch of snuff. If he has anything in him, he'll be ashamed to take that old-fashioned way of making his deserts known to his sweetheart. If he hasn't the courage, why he's a milksop, and no Louisas were born for the like of him. No! he must carry on his commerce with the daughter behind the father's back. He must manage so to win her heart, that she would rather wish both father and mother at Old Harry than give him up – or that she come herself, fall at her father's feet, and implore either for death on the rack, or the only one of her heart. That's the fellow for me! that I call love! and he who can't bring matters to that pitch with a petticoat may – stick the goose feather in his cap.
WORM (seizes hat and stick and hurries out of the room). Much obliged, Mr. Miller!
MILLER (going after him slowly). For what? for what? You haven't taken anything, Mr. Secretary! (Comes back.) He won't hear, and off he's gone. The very sight of that quill-driver is like poison and brimstone to me. An ugly, contraband knave, smuggled into the world by some lewd prank of the devil – with his malicious little pig's eyes, foxy hair, and nut-cracker chin, just as if Nature, enraged at such a bungled piece of goods, had seized the ugly monster by it, and flung him aside. No! rather than throw away my daughter on a vagabond like him, she may – God forgive me!
MRS MILLER. The wretch! – but you'll be made to keep a clean tongue in your head!
MILLER. Ay, and you too, with your pestilential baron – you, too, must put my bristles up. You're never more stupid than when you have the most occasion to show a little sense. What's the meaning of all that trash about your daughter being a great lady? If it's to be cried out about the town to-morrow, you need only let that fellow get scent of it. He is one of your worthies who go sniffing about into people's houses, dispute upon everything, and, if a slip of the tongue happen to you, skurry with it straight to the prince, mistress, and minister, and then there's the devil to pay.
Enter LOUISA with a book in her hand.
LOUISA. Good morning, dear father!
MILLER (affectionately). Bless thee, my Louisa! I rejoice to see thy thoughts are turned so diligently to thy Creator. Continue so, and his arm will support thee.
LOUISA. Oh! I am a great sinner, father! Was he not here, mother?
MRS MILLER. Who, my child?
LOUISA. Ah! I forgot that there are others in the world besides him – my head wanders so. Was he not here? Ferdinand?
MILLER (with melancholy, serious voice). I thought my Louisa had forgotten that name in her devotions?
LOUISA (after looking at him steadfastly for some time). I understand you, father. I feel the knife which stabs my conscience; but it comes too late. I can no longer pray, father. Heaven and Ferdinand divide my bleeding soul, and I fear – I fear – (after a pause). Yet no, no, good father. The painter is best praised when we forget him in the contemplation of his picture. When in the contemplation of his masterpiece, my delight makes me forget the Creator, – is not that, father, the true praise of God?
MILLER (throws himself in displeasure on a chair). There we have it! Those are the fruits of your ungodly reading.
LOUISA (uneasy, goes to the window). Where can he be now? Ah! the high-born ladies who see him – listen to him – I am a poor forgotten maiden. (Startles at that word, and rushes to her father.) But no, no! forgive me. I do not repine at my lot. I ask but little – to think on him – that can harm no one. Ah! that I might breathe out this little spark of life in one soft fondling zephyr to cool his check! That this fragile floweret, youth, were a violet, on which he might tread, and I die modestly beneath his feet! I ask no more, father! Can the proud, majestic day-star punish the gnat for basking in its rays?
MILLER (deeply affected, leans on the arm of his chair, and covers his face). My child, my child, with joy would I sacrifice the remnant of my days hadst thou never seen the major.
LOUISA (terrified.) How; how? What did you say? No, no! that could not be your meaning, good father. You know not that Ferdinand is mine! You know not that God created him for me, and for my delight alone! (After a pause of recollection.) The first moment that I beheld him – and the blood rushed into my glowing cheeks – every pulse beat with joy; every throb told me, every breath whispered, "'Tis he!" And my heart, recognizing the long-desired one, repeated "'Tis he!" And the whole world was as one melodious echo of my delight! Then – oh! then was the first dawning of my soul! A thousand new sentiments arose in my bosom, as flowers arise from the earth when spring approaches. I forgot there was a world, yet never had I felt that world so dear to me! I forgot there was a God, yet never had I so loved him!
MILLER (runs to her and clasps her to his bosom). Louisa! my beloved, my admirable child! Do what thou wilt. Take all – all – my life – the baron – God is my witness – him I can never give thee! [Exit.
LOUISA. Nor would I have him now, father! Time on earth is but a stinted dewdrop in the ocean of eternity. 'Twill swiftly glide in one delicious dream of Ferdinand. I renounce him for this life! But then, mother – then when the bounds of separation are removed – when the hated distinctions of rank no longer part us – when men will be only men – I shall bring nothing with me save my innocence! Yet often has my father told me that at the Almighty's coming riches and titles will be worthless; and that hearts alone will be beyond all price. Oh! then shall I be rich! There, tears will be reckoned for triumphs, and purity of soul be preferred to an illustrious ancestry. Then, then, mother, shall I be noble! In what will he then be superior to the girl of his heart?
MRS. MILLER (starts from her seat). Louisa! the baron! He is jumping over the fence! Where shall I hide myself?
LOUISA (begins to tremble). Oh! do not leave me, mother!
MRS MILLER. Mercy! What a figure I am. I am quite ashamed! I cannot let his lordship see me in this state!
LOUISA – FERDINAND. (He flies towards her – she falls back into her chair, pale and trembling. He remains standing before her – they look at each other for some moments in silence. A pause.)
FERDINAND. So pale, Louisa?
LOUISA (rising, and embracing him). It is nothing – nothing now that you are here – it is over.
FERDINAND (takes her hand and raises it to his lips). And does my Louisa still love me? My heart is yesterday's; is thine the same? I flew hither to see if thou wert happy, that I might return and be so too. But I find thee whelmed in sorrow!
LOUISA. Not so, my beloved, not so!
FERDINAND. Confess, Louisa! you are not happy. I see through your soul as clearly as through the transparent lustre of this brilliant. No spot can harbor here unmarked by me – no thought can cloud your brow that does not reach your lover's heart. Whence comes this grief? Tell me, I beseech you! Ah! could I feel assured this mirror still remained unsullied, there'd seem to me no cloud in all the universe! Tell me, dear Louisa, what afflicts you?
LOUISA (looking at him with anxiety for a few moments). Ferdinand! couldst thou but know how such discourse exalts the tradesman's daughter —
FERDINAND (surprised). What say'st thou? Tell me, girl! how camest thou by that thought? Thou art my Louisa! who told thee thou couldst be aught else? See, false one, see, for what coldness I must chide thee! Were indeed thy whole soul absorbed by love for me, never hadst thou found time to draw comparisons! When I am with thee, my prudence is lost in one look from thine eyes: when I am absent in a dream of thee! But thou – thou canst harbor prudence in the sane breast with love! Fie on thee! Every moment bestowed on this sorrow was a robbery from affection and from me!
LOUISA (pressing his hand and shaking her head with a melancholy air). Ferdinand, you would lull my apprehensions to sleep; you would divert my eyes from the precipice into which I am falling. I can see the future! The voice of honor – your prospects, your father's anger – my nothingness. (Shuddering and suddenly drops his hands.) Ferdinand! a sword hangs over us! They would separate us!
FERDINAND (jumps up). Separate us! Whence these apprehensions, Louisa? Who can rend the bonds that bind two hearts, or separate the tones of one accord? True, I am a nobleman – but show me that my patent of nobility is older than the eternal laws of the universe – or my escutcheon more valid than the handwriting of heaven in my Louisa's eyes? "This woman is for this man?" I am son of the prime minister. For that very reason, what but love can soften the curses which my father's extortions from the country will entail upon me?
LOUISA. Oh! how I fear that father!
FERDINAND. I fear nothing – nothing but that your affection should know bounds. Let obstacles rise between us, huge as mountains, I will look upon them as a ladder by which to fly into the arms of my Louisa! The tempest of opposing fate shall but fan the flame of my affection dangers will only serve to make Louisa yet more charming. Then speak no more of terrors, my love! I myself – I will watch over thee carefully as the enchanter's dragon watches over buried gold. Trust thyself to me! thou shalt need no other angel. I will throw myself between thee and fate – for thee receive each wound. For thee will I catch each drop distilled from the cup of joy, and bring thee in the bowl of love. (Embracing affectionately.) This arm shall support my Louisa through life. Fairer than it dismissed thee, shall heaven receive thee back, and confess with delight that love alone can give perfection to the soul.
LOUISA (disengaging herself from him, greatly agitated). No more! I beseech thee, Ferdinand! no more! Couldst thou know. Oh! leave me, leave me! Little dost thou feel how these hopes rend my heart in pieces like fiends! (Going.)
FERDINAND (detaining her). Stay, Louisa! stay! Why this agitation? Why those anxious looks?
LOUISA. I had forgotten these dreams, and was happy. Now – now – from this day is the tranquillity of my heart no more. Wild impetuous wishes will torment my bosom! Go! God forgive thee! Thou hast hurled a firebrand into my young peaceful heart which nothing can extinguish! (She breaks from him, and rushes from the apartment, followed by FERDINAND.)