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.)