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Love And Intrigue.
A Bourgeois Tragedy

Translation © 2019 Flora Kimmich, CC BY 4.0


FIRST MINISTER von WALTER, at the court of a German prince

FERDINAND, his son, major


LADY MILFORD, favorite of the Prince

WURM, private secretary of the First Minister

MILLER, town musician

his WIFE

LUISA, his daughter

SOPHIE, chambermaid of Lady Milford

An old RETAINER of the Prince

various minor figures

Miller just rising from his chair, his wife finishing her coffee. Engraving by Wilhelm Hecht from a woodcut by Heinrich Lossow, Schillers Werke illustrirt von ersten deutschen Künstlern (Leipzig and Stuttgart, 1877). University of Virginia.
Image in the public domain.

Act One

Scene One

Room in the Music Master’s house

Miller is just rising from his chair and sets his cello aside. His wife sits at a table, still in night dress, drinking her coffee.

MILLER (walking rapidly up and down). Once and for all. This business is turning serious. My daughter and the Baron—it’s getting to be a scandal. My house is losing its good name. The First Minister gets wind of this and—  Long story short, I’m going to show his lordship the door.

WIFE. You didn’t talk him into coming here, didn’t throw your daughter at him.

MILLER. Didn’t talk him into coming here, didn’t throw the girl at him—who’s going to notice that? I’m the master here.1 I should have called my daughter to order sooner. I should have seen the Major off. Or should have taken it right away to his Excellency Lord Papa. The young Baron will get away with no more than a slap on the wrist, you can be sure of that, and a thunderclap will break loose on the fiddler.

WIFE (draining her cup with a slurp). Nonsense! Pure talk! What can break loose on you? Who knows anything against you? All you do is practice your profession and pick up pupils where you find them.

MILLER. But just tell me, what’s to come of all this business? He can’t take the girl. There’s not a chance of that. And make of her a—  God have mercy! Listen, when such a misseu with a von to his name has been helping himself here, there, and everywhere and has fetched himself a fine case of the-devil-knows-what, then our good browser develops a new taste, a taste for greener pastures. You just watch! You just watch! And if you put an eye to every knothole and stood guard over every drop of blood, he’ll sweet-talk the girl right under your nose, give her one, and then take off again. And the girl is ruined for life, no one will have her. Or, if she comes to like that handiwork, keeps at it. (Striking his forehead.) Jesus Christ!

WIFE. God save us!

MILLER. Saving’s just what’s needed. What else can such a fly-by-night be aiming for? The girl is pretty, slender, turns a fine ankle. In the attic it can look like whatever. With you womenfolk, one doesn’t care, as long as the good Lord has done right by the ground floor. When my young whipper-snapper has figured that one out—hoopla!—a light will dawn on him, like on my Rodney2 when he sniffs a Frenchman, raises all his sails, and gives chase. I don’t hold it against him. A man’s a man. I should know.

WIFE. Should just read the loverly billy-dooze3 his Honor is always writing to your daughter. Dear God! You’d see as clear as day he’s only interested in her sweet soul.

MILLER. Now that’s the limit! One kicks the dog and means the master. You want to give greetings to the flesh, you send your loving heart as messenger. How did I do it? When you’ve got so far that two minds meet—guess what—the bodies follow their example; the servants copy their lord- and ladyships, and in the end it was the silvery moon that coupled them.

WIFE. But only look at all the fine books the Major’s brought into the house. They’re your daughter’s prayer books.

MILLER (whistles). Ho-ha! Prayer books! A lot you know. The black beef broth of Nature is too strong for his lordship’s picky stomach. He must first have it cooked up fine in his pestilential poets’ kitchen. Into the fire with all that rubbish. The girl is swallowing all kinds of super-divine foldarol on me—God knows whatever for. That gets into the blood like Spanish fly and tears apart on me the handful of Christianity that a father could barely manage to hold together. Into the fire, I say. The girl is filling her head with all kinds of deviltry. And after all that switching her tail in the land of milk and honey, she won’t find her way back home again. She’ll forget, be ashamed that her father is Miller the fiddler, and in the end she’ll turn down a solid, honest son-in-law who’d have made such a good fit with my customers. No, by God! (He leaps up, heated.) We’ll get straight to the point! I’ll show the Major—yes, the Major—where the carpenter has cut the opening. (He is at the point of leaving.)

WIFE. Be nice, Miller. It’s many a pretty penny those presents have—

MILLER (coming back and standing before her). My daughter’s blood money? Go to the devil, you old bawd. I’ll sooner take my fiddle and go begging, play for a bowl of soup; I’ll sooner smash my cello and carry manure in the sounding board than develop a taste for money my one child has paid for with her soul and her salvation. You just give up that cursed coffee of yours and the snuff you’re sniffing,4 and you’ll not have to take your daughter’s pretty face to market. I always got to eat my fill and had a good shirt on my back before that confounded nine-day-wonder sniffed his way into my parlor.

WIFE. Easy! Easy! You are all het up. I’m only saying we shouldn’t spoil the Major’s liking, since his Excellency is the First Minister’s son.

MILLER. That’s the hair in the soup. That’s why, exactly why this thing must be broken up today yet. The First Minister will have to be grateful to me if he’s a rightful father. You’ll brush out my red plush coat and I’ll have them announce me with His Excellency. I’ll say to His Excellency: Your Lordship’s most respected son has his eye on my daughter; my daughter is not good enough for to be Your Lordship’s most respected son’s wife, but she is too precious for to be his whore, and basta! Millers my name!

Scene Two

Secretary Wurm. As above.

WIFE. Oh, good morning, Mr. Sekertery. Have we the pleasure once more?

WURM. All mine, all mine, Cousin.5 Where a Baron’s honor drops by, my mere burgher’s pleasure doesn’t figure.

WIFE. What you don’t say, Mr. Sekertery! His lordship the Major von Walter’s high honor does give us the blaisir6 now and then, but for all that we don’t look down on anybody.

MILLER (annoyed). A chair for the gentleman, Wife. Take your things, fellow countryman?7

WURM (lays hat and stick aside, seats himself). Well! Well! And how is my intended? Or my once-intended? I wouldn’t think—  One doesn’t get to see her—Mamsell8 Luisa?

WIFE. Much obliged for your asking, Mr. Sekertery. But my daughter isn’t proud, no, not at all.9

MILLER (irritated, pokes her with an elbow). Woman!

WIFE. Only regret that she can’t have the honor of Mr. Sekertery. She’s just off to church, my daughter.

WURM. Pleased to hear it, pleased to hear it. I’ll have a pious Christian wife in her one day.

WIFE (with a stupidly pretentious smile). Yes—  But, Mr. Sekertery—

MILLER (visibly embarrassed, pinches his wife’s ear). Woman!

WIFE. If our house can be at your service otherwise—with the greatest pleasure, Mr. Sekertery—

WURM (with false courtesy). Otherwise! Many thanks! Many thanks! (Clears his throat noisily.)

WIFE. But Mr. Sekertery will surely see—

MILLER (angry, kicking his wife in the rear). Woman!

WIFE. Good is good and better is better. And you don’t want to stand in the way of your only child. (With peasant’s pride.) You’ve surely understood me, Mr. Sekertery?

WURM (fidgets in his chair, scratches behind his ear, tugs at his cuffs and jabot). Understood? Why, no—  Well, yes—  What would you be meaning?

WIFE. Well—  Well—  I just thought—  I mean (coughs), since the good Lord most surely wants to have my daughter be a lady—10

WURM (leaping up). What’s that you say?

MILLER. Keep your seat! Keep your seat, Mr. Secretary! The woman’s a silly goose. How did a lady get into this conversation? What kind of donkey sticks its long ear out of all this talk?

WIFE. Fuss as long as you please, you. What I know, I know. And what the Major said, he said.

MILLER (furious, leaps for his cello). Will you shut your mouth? You want to feel this cello on your skull? What can you know? What can he have said? Pay no attention to this twaddle, Cousin. And you march straight out to your kitchen. (To Wurm.) You wouldn’t take me for such an idiot’s brother-in-law as to want to use the girl to climb? You wouldn’t think that of me, would you, Mr. Secretary?

WURM. Nor have I deserved it of you, Mr. Music Master. You’ve always shown yourself a man of his word, and my claim upon your daughter was as good as accepted. I have a position with a good living, the First Minister is well disposed toward me, I’ll not want for good references when I want to move higher. You see that my intentions with Mamsell Luisa are serious, while a windbag nobleman may—

WIFE. Mr. Sekertery Wurm! More respect, if I may—

MILLER. Shut your mouth, I say! No more of this, Cousin. Nothing has changed. What I told you last autumn, I’ll say again today. I’ll not force my daughter.11 If she likes you—well and good, and she can then see about getting on with you. If she shakes her head, better yet—  In God’s name, I was about to say—accept her refusal and crack a bottle with her father. The girl must live with you, not I. Why should I, out of pure willfulness, saddle her with a man she doesn’t like? And have the Enemy after me like quarry in my old age; in every glass of wine, in every bowl of soup have to swallow: “You’re the rascal who ruined his child!”

WIFE. Long story short: I’ll not give my consent. Absolutely not. My daughter’s meant for better things; I’ll go to court if my husband lets himself be talked into something.

MILLER. You want me to break your neck? You hold your tongue.

WURM (to Miller). A bit of fatherly advice can do much with a daughter, and you, I hope, will know me, Mr. Miller?

MILLER. A pox on you! It’s the girl must know you. What I, old graybeard, have seen in you is no treat for a young girl with a sweet tooth. I’ll tell you to a hair if you’re a man for the orchestra. But women’s souls—they’re too much even for a bandmaster. And to tell you straight, Cousin—like the rough and ready old Saxon that I am—you’d hardly thank me for my advice. I’ll not urge my daughter toward anybody. But you I’d urge against, Mr. Secretary. Let me finish. I wouldn’t trust a suitor who asks the father’s help—excuse me—as far as I can throw him. If he amounts to anything, he’ll be ashamed to bring his talents before his sweetheart in this outmoded way. If he doesn’t have the courage, he’s a mouse—and that’s no man for Luisa. He’ll have to go behind the father’s back to court the daughter. And make it so that the girl wishes father and mother to the devil before she’ll let him go. Or so that she comes, throws herself at her father’s feet, and begs for her one and only love or for black death. There’s a man! That’s what I call love! And anyone who can’t get that far with the womenfolk—let him go ride his quill pen.

WURM (reaches for his hat and stick, and out the door). Much obliged, Mr. Miller.

MILLER (following him slowly). What for? What for? We didn’t offer you anything, Mr. Secretary. (Coming back.) Doesn’t hear a thing and off he goes. It’s like pure green poison to see that pen-pusher. A bred-in-the-bone repulsive rascal, as if some shady dealer had haggled a way for him into the good Lord’s world. Those little darting mouse eyes, flaming red hair, chin sticking out, as if Mother Nature, angry with the botched piece of work, had caught the rascal by that very part and flung him in some corner. Oh, no! Before I throw my daughter away on such a scoundrel, I’ll have her—  God forgive me!

WIFE (spits). The dog! But you’re not going to get what you want.

MILLER. And you with your pestilential baron—  You made me so angry. You’re never so dumb as when you, for God’s sake, should be smart. What was all that rubbish about your daughter and a lady supposed to mean? – Oh, I know his kind. You just have to let him get a whiff of something if you want it all over the market tomorrow. That’s just such a misseu, the way they sniff about in people’s houses, want to know the whys and wherefores about cellar and cook, and if you let something slip—boom!—Prince, mistress, and First Minister all hear about it and you have got a thunderation down your back.

Scene Three

Luisa Miller enters, a book in her hand. As above.

LUISA (lays the book down, goes to Miller, and takes his hand). Good morning, dear Father.

MILLER (warmly). There’s a good girl, my Luisa. Fine that you remember your Creator. Always be that way and his arm will hold you.

LUISA. Oh, I’m a great sinner, Father. Did he come, Mother?

WIFE. Who, my child?

LUISA. Ah! I forgot that there are other people besides him. My head is such a muddle. He didn’t come, Walter?

MILLER (sorrowful and earnest). I’d have thought my Luisa had left that name at church?

LUISA (having looked at him steadily). I understand you, Father, feel your knife in my conscience. But it comes too late. I have no devotion any more, Father. Heaven and Ferdinand both tear at my bleeding soul, and I’m afraid—I’m afraid—  (Pause.) But no, dear Father. The painter is best praised when the painting makes us forget him. Must God not be pleased when my pleasure at his masterwork makes me overlook Him?

MILLER (throwing himself into a chair, cross). There you have it! The fruit of all that godless reading.

LUISA (going to the window, uneasy). Where he might be just now? The fine young ladies12 who see him, hear him—  I’m a simple girl whom one forgets. (Startled at what she has said, she runs to her father.) But no! No! Forgive me. I’m not unhappy with my fate. I’ll only think of him a little—that costs nothing. This bit of life—if I could breathe it out in a caressing breeze to cool his face! This bloom of youth—if it were a violet and he stepped on it and it could die quietly beneath him! That would be enough, Father. When a fly warms itself in sunbeams, can the proud, majestic sun punish that?

MILLER (leans back in his chair and covers his face). Listen, Luisa, these few remaining years—  I’d give them all, if you had never seen the Major.

LUISA (shocked). What’s that you’re saying? No! He means something else, my father does. He’ll not know that Ferdinand is mine, made for me, for my joy by the Father of all lovers. (She stands reflecting.) When I saw him the first time (more rapid) and the blood rose in my cheeks, my pulse leapt, every feeling spoke, every breath whispered: “He’s the one”; when my heart caught sight of the one I’d always been looking for and also said, “He’s the one”—and how that echoed through the whole world just as joyful—then, oh, then the first dawn broke in my soul. A thousand young feelings sprang up in my heart like flowers from the earth in spring. I saw no world anymore and yet I remember that it never was so beautiful. I knew of no God anymore and yet I had never loved Him so.13

MILLER (hurries to her and presses her to his breast). Luisa, dearest child, wonderful child, take my tired old head, take everything, everything! But the Major—God is my witness—him I cannot give you. (He goes off.)

LUISA. And I don’t want him now, my father. This scant dewdrop of time—the very dream of Ferdinand drinks it up in rapture. I renounce him for this life. But then, Mother, when the barriers of difference collapse, when the hateful trappings of rank fall away from us and people are just people—  I’ll bring nothing with me but my innocence, but Father has said so often that finery and grand titles will become cheap when God comes and hearts will rise in price. Then I’ll be rich. Tears then will count for triumphs and good thoughts for good ancestors. Then I’ll have rank. What would raise him then above his girl?

WIFE (jumping up). Luisa! The Major! He’s just leaping over the fence. Where can I hide?

LUISA (begins to tremble). Stay here, Mother!

WIFE. My God! How do I look! I’d be ashamed. I can’t let his Honor see me like this. (Exit.)

Scene Four

Ferdinand von Walter. Luisa.

He flies to her. She sinks into a chair, faint and wan.
They regard each other silently. Pause.

FERDINAND. You’re pale, Luisa?

LUISA (stands up and falls into his arms). It’s nothing. Nothing. You are here. It’s over.

FERDINAND (taking her hand to kiss it). Does my Luisa still love me? My heart is just as it was yesterday; is yours, too? I’ve come flying by, wanted to see if you were cheerful and then go and be cheerful, too—and you are not.

LUISA. Oh, but I am, Beloved.

FERDINAND. Tell me the truth. You’re not. Your soul is as clear to me as this diamond of first water (indicating his ring).14 No bubble rises here that I’d not see; no thought crosses this face that could escape me! What’s the matter? Quick now! If I just find this mirror bright, then no cloud passes over the world. What’s troubling you?

LUISA (contemplates him silently and significantly; then sadly). Ferdinand! Ferdinand! If you only knew how handsomely this language sets off a burgher’s daughter—

FERDINAND. What’s this? (Dismayed.) Listen, my girl! Where did you get that from? You are my Luisa! Who says you should be something else? Do you see, you little traitor, in what cold terms I must respond to you? If you were wholly, solely love for me, when would you have found the time to make comparisons? When I’m with you, my reason melts into a glance, into a dream of you when I’m away. And you are not just love but also are clever? For shame! Every moment that you’ve lost to this kind of unhappiness was stolen from your young man.

LUISA (taking his hand and shaking her head). You want to soothe me, Ferdinand, to sing me to sleep. You want to lure my eyes away from this abyss into which I’ll surely plunge. I look into the future: the call of fame, your projects, your father—my nothingness. (She starts and drops his hand.) Ferdinand! A dagger over you and me! They’ll separate us!15

FERDINAND. Separate us? (He leaps up.) Where did you get this misgiving, Luisa? Separate us? Who can loose the bond of two hearts or pull apart the tones of one chord? True, I’m a nobleman. But we’ll just see if my patent of nobility is older than the designs for an infinite universe, or my coat of arms more valid than heaven’s handwriting in Luisa’s eyes, attesting: This woman is made for this man. I am the First Minister’s son. That’s the very reason. Who other than love itself can sweeten the hatreds that my father’s extortion16 will pass down to me?

LUISA. Oh, how I fear him, this father!

FERDINAND. I fear nothing—nothing—but the limits of your love. Let obstacles like mountains come between us—  I’ll take them for stairs up which I’ll fly into Luisa’s arms. The foul winds of fortune shall only raise my feelings higher, dangers will only make my Luisa the more alluring. No more of fear, my love. I myself, I’ll watch over you the way the magic dragon watches over buried treasure. Entrust yourself to me. You need no other angel. I shall throw myself between you and Fate, receive every wound intended for you, catch every drop that overflows the cup of joy, bring it to you in the chalice of love. (Embracing her tenderly.) On this arm my Luisa will trip through life; heaven will receive you back again more lovely than it sent you here and admit, amazed, that love alone lays last hand upon a soul—17

LUISA (pushing him away, very aroused). No more! I beg you, say no more! If you knew—  Let me go—  You don’t know that your hopes fall upon my heart like Furies. (She wants to go.)

FERDINAND (stopping her). Luisa! What in the world? What has come over you?

LUISA. I had forgotten these dreams and I was happy. But now! Now! From this day on my peace is over. Wild wishes—I know it—will rage in my breast. Go. God forgive you. You have thrown a brand into my peaceful young heart—a fire that never ever shall be quenched.18

(She rushes out. He follows her, speechless.)

Scene Five

Anteroom in the First Minister’s suite

The First Minister, wearing the cross of an order and a star beside it,19
, with Secretary Wurm.

FIRST MINISTER. A serious attachment! My son? No, Wurm. You’ll never make me believe that.

WURM. Your Excellency will be so gracious as to order me to prove it.

FIRST MINISTER. That he courts that little burgher chit, flatters her, even goes on about feelings—these things I find possible, forgivable, but—  And the daughter of a music man, you say?

WURM. Music master Miller’s daughter.

FIRST MINISTER. Pretty? But of course she is.

WURM (vivid). The prettiest of blondes. No exaggeration. She’d stand out beside the greatest beauties of the Court.

FIRST MINISTER (laughs). You’re telling me—that you, too, have your eye on her, Wurm. That’s what I see. But look here, my dear Wurm. That my son has feelings for womenfolk gives me hope the ladies won’t exactly hate him. Then he’ll get things done at Court. You say the girl is pretty. I like it that my son has taste. He professes solid intentions to the little fool? Better yet. I see he has the wit to lie to his advantage. He can become minister. He makes it happen? Perfect! I see that he has luck. And if this farce ends in a fine grandson—  Incomparable! Then I’ll toast the favorable aspects of my family tree with a bottle of Malaga and pay the legal penalty for the brat myself.

WURM. I only hope, your Excellency, you’ll not have to drink that bottle to console yourself.

FIRST MINISTER (grave). Just recall, Wurm, that I, once I am persuaded, firmly persuaded, rage when I am angry. I want to take it lightly—this attempt of yours to set me on them. I gladly believe you’d want to rid yourself of this rival. Since you might find it hard to cut my son out with the girl, the father was to serve you as a flyswatter—that, too, I can understand. And your fine beginnings as a rascal I find delightful. But, my dear Wurm, you must not try to fool me along with all the rest. Understand me well. Don’t push the prank to the point of trespassing on my principles.

WURM. Your Excellency’s pardon. If jealousy had any role here, as you suspect, it would be in what I saw, not what I say.

FIRST MINISTER. I should think it absent altogether. You dunce, what does it cost you if you receive a gold piece straight from the mint or only subsequently, from a banker? Take comfort from the local nobles: Wittingly or not, seldom is a marriage concluded among us where not at least a half-dozen guests or attendants can measure with a compass the bridegroom’s chosen paradise.

WURM (with a bow). Then I, my Lord, am content with my burgher’s rank.20

FIRST MINISTER. And furthermore you may soon have the pleasure of returning the favor most handsomely upon your rival. There’s a plan afoot in Cabinet: Lady Milford, when the new Duchess arrives, will be dismissed apparently and, to perfect the deception, will enter another union. You know well, Wurm, how much my prestige depends upon the Lady’s influence, how, in general, my most powerful plots are played into the Prince’s changing moods. The Prince is looking for a match for Milford. Someone else could come along, conclude the bargain, acquire the Prince’s confidence along with the Lady, and make himself indispensable. To keep the Prince in the toils of my family, my Ferdinand is to marry Milford. Do I make myself clear?

WURM. So clear that my eyes smart. The Minister at least has proved the father a mere beginner. If the Major proves himself as obedient a son as my Lord is a tender father, you may find your demand returned under protest.

FIRST MINISTER. Happily, I’ve never had to worry about the execution of a plan where I could intervene with “It shall be.” And that brings us full circle, Wurm. I’ll announce my son’s marriage to him this very morning. The face he makes should justify what you suspect or disprove it.

WURM. By your leave, my gracious Lord. The dark face that he will surely make can be accounted as readily to the bride you bring him as to the one you take away. I beg you, try a sharper proof. Choose the most irreproachable match in all the land, and if he consents, let Secretary Wurm drag a ball and chain about for three full years.

FIRST MINISTER (biting his lip). The devil!

WURM. That’s the way it is. Her mother—the soul of stupidity—told me too much in her simplicity.

FIRST MINISTER (walking up and down, suppressing his anger). Fine! This very morning.

WURM. Only, may your Excellency not forget—the Major is son of my master.

FIRST MINISTER. You’ll not be harmed, Wurm.

WURM. And that my service helping you out of an unwelcome daughter-in-law—

FIRST MINISTER. Deserves the return service of helping you into a wife—21 That, too, Wurm.

WURM (with a contented bow). Always yours, my gracious Lord. (About to go.)

FIRST MINISTER. What I’ve just told you in confidence, Wurm—  (Menacing.) If you talk—

WURM (laughing). Then your Excellency may produce my forgeries. (He goes off.)

FIRST MINISTER. I’m sure of you indeed. I’ll tie you to your own villainy like a stag beetle to a string.22

ATTENDANT (entering). His Lordship Chamberlain von Kalb.

FIRST MINISTER. Just the one I wanted. (To the Attendant.) It’s my pleasure.

The Attendant goes off.

Scene Six23

Chamberlain von Kalb in opulent, but tasteless, court dress:
chamberlain’s keys
, two watches, sword, his hat under his arm,
his hair teased high. He flies toward the First Minister with a screech
, spreading a scent of musk over the theater stalls. The First Minister.

CHAMBERLAIN (embracing him). Ah! Good morning, dear friend! Well rested? Well slept? You’ll forgive me that I come so late to have the pleasure—urgent business—the menu—visiting cards—arranging the guests for today’s sledding party. And then I had to be present at the Prince’s levée and announce the weather to His Serene Highness.24

FIRST MINISTER. Indeed, Chamberlain. You clearly couldn’t get away.

CHAMBERLAIN. And on top of that my knave of a tailor stood me up.

FIRST MINISTER. And still so well turned out?

CHAMBERLAIN. That is not all. Today it’s one malheur after another—  Just listen.

FIRST MINISTER (distracted). Is that possible?

CHAMBERLAIN. Just listen. I’ve hardly alighted from my coach, the horses shy, stamp and lash out, and—I ask you!—and I am splashed up to the knees with the muck of the streets . What to do? Put yourself in my place, Baron. There I stood. It was late. It’s a day’s trip—  But to come before His Grace in that outfit! Merciful God! What do I do? I stage a fainting fit. They rush me head over heels into my coach and I go flying home in full career—change clothes—drive back—what do you say to that—and am the first one in the antechamber. What do you say to that?

FIRST MINISTER. A splendid impromptu of human ingenuity. But aside from that, Kalb—  You’ve already spoken with the Duke?

CHAMBERLAIN (self-important). Twenty minutes and one-half.

FIRST MINISTER. Quite so! And have doubtless heard important news for me?

CHAMBERAIN (after a silence, gravely). Today His Grace is wearing a beaver, color merde d’oye.25

FIRST MINISTER. Just think! No, Chamberlain. In that case I have even better news for you. That Lady Milford is to become Madame Major von Walter surely comes as news to you?

CHAMBERLAIN. Think of that! And that’s been all arranged?

FIRST MINISTER. Has been signed, Chamberlain. And you’ll oblige me if you go without delay to prepare the Lady for his visit, and make Ferdinand’s decision known throughout the whole residence.26

CHAMBERLAIN (enchanted). With the very greatest pleasure, my great friend. What could I desire more? I’ll fly to do it. (Embraces him.) Farewell. In three-quarters of an hour, the whole town will know of it. (He skips out.)

FIRST MINISTER (laughs in his wake). Let them just say that creatures such as that are good for nothing—  Now my Ferdinand must be willing, or the whole town has lied. (Rings. Wurm enters.) My son is to come in.

(Wurm goes off. The First Minister walks up and down, deep in thought.)

Scene Seven

Ferdinand. The First Minister. Wurm, who goes off again.

FERDINAND. At your orders, honored Father—

FIRST MINISTER. Only so am I ever to have the pleasure of my son. That will do, Wurm. Ferdinand, I’ve been observing you for a while now and do not find the frank, high-hearted youth who once delighted me. A curious sorrow broods in your face. You avoid me. You avoid your usual circles. Come now! At your age you’ll be forgiven ten extravagances for one moment of crotchetiness.27 Leave the crotchets to me, dear Son. Let me work on your future fortunes and think only of falling in with my designs. Come! Embrace me, Ferdinand.

FERDINAND. You’re very gracious today, my father.

FIRST MINISTER. Today, you rogue—and this “today” said with a grimace? (Earnestly.) Ferdinand, for whose sake have I trodden the risky road into the Prince’s affections? For whose sake have I fallen out both with my conscience and with heaven? Listen, Ferdinand. (I’m speaking with my son.) Who did I make room for when I removed my predecessor—a story that cuts me the more deeply the more carefully I conceal my knife from the world. Now tell me, Ferdinand: For whose sake did I do these things?

FERDINAND (stepping back, horrified). Not for mine, my father? The bloody sheen of all this foulness is surely not to fall on me? God knows! Better, never to have been born than to serve as an excuse for these misdeeds.

FIRST MINISTER. What did you say? No matter. I’ll ascribe it to all those novels you’ve been reading. Ferdinand—  I’ll not be angered, you impertinent boy. Is that how you reward my sleepless nights? My constant care? My eternal pricks of conscience? The burden of responsibility falls on me, on me the Judge’s rage and condemnation. You receive your happiness at second hand—the legacy’s not sullied by a crime.

FERDINAND (raising his right hand toward heaven). I solemnly renounce this legacy, which only reminds me of an atrocious father.

FIRST MINISTER. Listen, youngster, don’t you anger me. If you had your way, you’d crawl in the dust your whole life long.

FERDINAND. Better that, Father, than if I crawled around the Throne.

FIRST MINISTER (swallowing his anger). Well, then. I’ll have to force you to recognize your happiness. Where ten others cannot rise no matter how they try, you are raised up effortlessly, raised up in sleep. At twelve you were an ensign, at twenty, major. I got the Prince to give consent. Now you’ll lay aside your uniform and go into the ministries. The Prince spoke of privy counselor, of embassies—extraordinary favor. A magnificent prospect opens before you. For the moment, a smooth road toward the throne, then to the throne itself, if power is indeed worth as much as the marks of power. That does not excite you?

FERDINAND. Because my understanding of greatness and good fortune is not exactly yours. Your happiness rarely announces itself except by ruin. Envy, fear, and ill-will are the dark mirrors in which a ruler’s highness admires itself; tears, curses, and despair the dreadful fare on which these happy ones banquet, from which they rise, drunk, and stagger into eternity, before the throne of God. My ideal of happiness withdraws into me, sufficient to itself. My wishes all lie buried in my heart.

FIRST MINISTER. Masterly! Perfect! Splendid! Thirty years later the first lecture comes again! A pity that my fifty-year-old head is now too thick and slow to learn! Now, then. So that this rare talent does not rust out, I’ll pair you with someone with whom you can exercise such clownery at your pleasure. You shall decide—decide today—to take a wife.

FERDINAND (steps back, startled). My father?

FIRST MINISTER. Put plainly: I have sent Lady Milford a writing in your name. You will be so good as to betake yourself to her without delay and tell her that you are her bridegroom.

FERDINAND. To Milford, my father?

FIRST MINISTER. If she is known to you—

FERDINAND (beside himself). To what pillory in the duchy is she not? But it’s surely ridiculous of me to take your caprice seriously? Would you want to be father to the scoundrel son who’d marry the notorious Favorite?

FIRST MINISTER. Not only that. I’d court her myself if she’d have a man of fifty. You’d not want to be son to such a scoundrel father?

FERDINAND. As God lives, no!

FIRST MINISTER. On my honor, an impertinence that I pardon for its rarity.

FERDINAND. I beg you, Father! Don’t leave me any longer in an uncertainty that makes it insupportable to call myself your son.

FIRST MINISTER. Boy, are you mad? What reasonable man would not covet the distinction of changing places with his ruler?

FERDINAND. Father, you baffle me. You call it a distinction—a distinction to join one’s ruler there where he, too, crawls down below the level of the human?

(The First Minister bursts out laughing.)

You can laugh—I’ll overlook that, Father. How can I show myself before the simplest artisan, who at least received a body that is whole as his dowry? Or before the world? Before the Prince? How before the paramour herself, who’d want to wash the blot on her honor away in my disgrace?

FIRST MINISTER. Where in all the world have you picked up such talk, boy?

FERDINAND. I implore you, Father, by heaven and earth! Tossing your only son away like this will not make you as happy as it will make him unhappy. I’ll give you my life if that can advance you. I have my life from you; I’ll not hesitate a moment to offer it for your greatness. But my honor, Father—if you take this, then giving me life was frivolous roguery and I must curse the father like the pander.

FIRST MINISTER (clapping him on the shoulder). Well done, dear Son. I now see that you’re a solid fellow, deserving of the best wife in the duchy. You shall have her. This very noon you’ll engage yourself to Countess Ostheim.

FERDINAND (disconcerted anew). Is this moment to break me altogether?

FIRST MINISTER (watching him closely). Your honor, I presume, will raise no objection?

FERDINAND. No, my father. Friederike von Ostheim would be the happiness of any other. (To himself, utterly confused.) What his bad intentions left whole in my heart, his good intentions tear to pieces.

FIRST MINISTER (still fixed on him). I await your gratitude, Ferdinand—

FERDINAND (rushes to him and kisses his hand fervently). Father! Your favor stirs all my feelings. Father! Warmest thanks for your heart’s intentions. Your choice is irreproachable. But I can—  I may—  Have pity on me—  I cannot love the Countess.

FIRST MINISTER (stepping back). Aha! Now I have him, the young master. This trap he has walked into, the sly dissembler. So it wasn’t honor that forbade the Lady? You detested, not the person, but the marriage?

(Ferdinand stands petrified, then starts and tries to escape.)

Where to? Stop there! Is that the respect you owe me? (The Major returns.) You’ve been announced to the Lady. The Prince has my word. Town and Court know all about it. If you make a liar of me, boy—before the Prince, the Lady, the town, the Court—listen, boy—or if I get behind certain stories—  Ho! Ho! What has so suddenly blown out the fire in your cheeks?

FERDINAND (pale and trembling). What’s that? It’s surely nothing, Father.

FIRST MINISTER (with a terrible glance). And if it’s something—  And if I find out where this balkiness is coming from—  Ho, boy! The very thought throws me into a rage. Go this minute. The changing of the guard is just beginning. You’ll be at the Lady’s door as soon as the password’s given. When I appear, a duchy trembles. We’ll just see if my pig-headed son’s too much for me. (He goes out, then returns.) Boy, I say you’ll be there, or beware my anger. (He goes off.)

FERDINAND (emerging from a stunned state). Is he gone? Was that the voice of a father? I’ll go to her—I’ll go—and tell her things, hold up a mirror to her. Worthless woman! And if you then still want my hand—before the assembled nobility, the military, and the people—gird yourself in all the pride of England—I’ll toss you aside, hardy young Saxon that I am! (He rushes out.)