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.