The PRESIDENT—MARSHALL KALB.
MARSHAL (hastily). I have just looked in, en passant, my dear friend! How are you? How do you get on? We are to have the grand opera Dido to-night! Such a conflagration!—a whole town will be in flames!—you will come to the blaze of course—eh?
PRESIDENT. I have conflagration enough in my own house, one that threatens the destruction of all I possess. Be seated, my dear marshal. You arrive very opportunely to give me your advice and assistance in a certain business which will either advance our fortunes or utterly ruin us both!
MARSHAL. Don't alarm me so, my dear friend!
PRESIDENT. As I said before, it must exalt or ruin us entirely! You know my project respecting the major and Lady Milford—you are not ignorant how necessary this union is to secure both our fortunes! Marshal, our plans threaten to come to naught. My son refuses to marry her!
MARSHAL. Refuses! Refuses to marry her? But, my goodness! I have published the news through the whole town. The union is the general topic of conversation.
PRESIDENT. Then you will be talked of by all the town as a spreader of false reports,—in short, Ferdinand loves another.
MARSHAL. Pooh! you are joking! As if that were an obstacle?
PRESIDENT. With such an enthusiast a most insurmountable one!
MARSHAL. Can he be mad enough to spurn his good-fortune? Eh?
PRESIDENT. Ask him yourself and you'll hear what he will answer.
MARSHAL. But, mon Dieu! what can he answer?
PRESIDENT. That he will publish to the world the crime by which we rose to power—that he will denounce our forged letters and receipts—that he will send us both to the scaffold. That is what he can answer.
MARSHAL. Are you out of your mind?
PRESIDENT. Nay, that is what he has already answered? He was actually on the point of putting these threats into execution; and it was only by the most abject submission that I could persuade him to abandon his design. What say you to this, marshal?
MARSHAL (with a look of bewildered stupidity). I am at my wits' end!
PRESIDENT. That might have blown over. But my spies have just brought me notice that the grand cupbearer, von Bock, is on the point of offering himself as a suitor to her ladyship.
MARSHAL. You drive me distracted! Whom did you say? Von Bock? Don't you know that we are mortal enemies? And don't you know why?
PRESIDENT. The first word that I ever heard of it!
MARSHAL. My dear count! You shall hear—your hair will stand on end! You must remember the famous court ball—it is now just twenty years ago. It was the first time that English country-dances were introduced—you remember how the hot wax trickled from the great chandelier on Count Meerschaum's blue and silver domino. Surely, you cannot have forgotten that affair!
PRESIDENT. Who could forget so remarkable a circumstance!
MARSHAL. Well, then, in the heat of the dance Princess Amelia lost her garter. The whole ball, as you may imagine, was instantly thrown into confusion. Von Bock and myself—we were then fellow-pages—crept through the whole saloon in search of the garter. At length I discovered it. Von Bock perceives my good-fortune—rushes forward—tears it from my hands, and, just fancy—presents it to the princess, and so cheated me of the honor I had so fortunately earned. What do you think of that?
PRESIDENT. 'Twas most insolent!
MARSHAL. I thought I should have fainted upon the spot. A trick so malicious was beyond the powers of mortal endurance. At length I recovered myself; and, approaching the princess, said,—"Von Bock, 'tis true, was fortunate enough to present the garter to your highness; but he who first discovered that treasure finds his reward in silence, and is dumb!"
PRESIDENT. Bravo, marshal! Admirably said! Most admirable!
MARSHAL. And is dumb! But till the day of judgment will I remember his conduct—the mean, sneaking sycophant! And as if that were not aggravation enough, he actually, as we were struggling on the ground for the garter, rubbed all the powder from one side of my peruke with his sleeve, and ruined me for the rest of the evening.
PRESIDENT. This is the man who will marry Lady Milford, and consequently soon take the lead at court.
MARSHAL. You plunge a dagger in my heart! But why must he? Why should he marry her? Why he? Where is the necessity?
PRESIDENT. Because Ferdinand refuses her, and there is no other candidate.
MARSHAL. But is there no possible method of obtaining your son's consent? Let the measure be ever so extravagant or desperate—there is nothing to which I should not willingly consent in order to supplant the hated von Bock.
PRESIDENT. I know but one means of accomplishing this, and that rests entirely with you.
MARSHAL. With me? Name it, my dear count, name it!
PRESIDENT. You must set Ferdinand and his mistress against each other.
MARSHAL. Against each other? How do you mean?—and how would that be possible.
PRESIDENT. Everything is ours could we make him suspect the girl.
MARSHAL. Ah, of theft, you mean?
PRESIDENT. Pshaw!—he would never believe that! No, no—I mean that she is carrying on an intrigue with another.
MARSHAL. And this other, who is he to be?
MARSHAL. How? Must I be her lover? Is she of noble birth?
PRESIDENT. What signifies that? What an idea!—she is the daughter of a musician.
MARSHAL. A plebeian?—that will never do!
PRESIDENT. What will never do? Nonsense, man! Who in the name of wonder would think of asking a pair of rosy cheeks for their owner's pedigree?
MARSHAL. But consider, my dear count, a married man! And my reputation at court!
PRESIDENT. Oh! that's quite another thing! I beg a thousand pardons, marshal; I was not aware that a man of unblemished morals held a higher place in your estimation than a man of power! Let us break up our conference.
MARSHAL. Be not so hasty, count. I did not mean to say that.
PRESIDENT (coldly.) No—no! You are perfectly right. I, too, am weary of office. I shall throw up the game, tender my resignation to the duke, and congratulate von Bock on his accession to the premiership. This duchy is not all the world.
MARSHAL. And what am I to do? It is very fine for you to talk thus! You are a man of learning! But I—mon Dieu! What shall I be if his highness dismisses me?
PRESIDENT. A stale jest!—a thing out of fashion!
MARSHAL. I implore you, my dearest, my most valued friend. Abandon those thoughts. I will consent to everything!
PRESIDENT. Will you lend your name to an assignation to which this Louisa Miller shall invite you in writing?
MARSHAL. Well, in God's name let it be so!
PRESIDENT. And drop the letter where the major cannot fail to find it.
MARSHAL. For instance, on the parade, where I can let it fall as if accidentally in drawing out my handkerchief.
PRESIDENT. And when the baron questions you will you assume the character of a favored rival?
MARSHAL. Mort de ma vie! I'll teach him manners! I'll cure him of interfering in my amours!
PRESIDENT. Good! Now you speak in the right key. The letter shall be written immediately! Come in the evening to receive it, and we will talk over the part you are to play.
MARSHAL. I will be with you the instant I have paid sixteen visits of the very highest importance. Permit me, therefore, to take my leave without delay. (Going.)
PRESIDENT (rings). I reckon upon your discretion, marshal.
MARSHAL (calls back). Ah, mon Dieu! you know me!