FERDINAND and LOUISA.
LOUISA re-enters slowly with the light, places it on the table, and stops on the opposite side of the room, her eyes fixed on the ground, except when she raises them to him with timid, stolen glances. He stands opposite, looking steadfastly on the earth—a long and deep silence.
LOUISA. If you will accompany me, Baron von Walter, I will try a piece on the harpsichord! (She opens the instrument. FERDINAND makes no answer. A pause.)
LOUISA. You owe me a revenge at chess. Will you play a game with me, Baron von Walter? (Another pause.)
LOUISA. I have begun the pocketbook, baron, which I promised to embroider for you. Will you look at the design? (Still a pause.)
LOUISA. Oh! I am very wretched!
FERDINAND (without changing his attitude). That may well be!
LOUISA. It is not my fault, Baron von Walter, that you are so badly entertained!
FERDINAND (with an insulting laugh). You are not to blame for my bashful modesty——
LOUISA. I am quite aware that we are no longer fit companions. I confess that I was terrified when you sent away my father. I believe, Baron von Walter, that this moment is equally insupportable to us both. Permit me to ask some of my acquaintances to join us.
FERDINAND. Yes, pray do so! And I too will go and invite some of mine.
LOUISA (looking at him with surprise). Baron von Walter!
FERDINAND (very spitefully). By my honor, the most fortunate idea that in our situation could ever enter mortal brain? Let us change this wearisome duet into sport and merriment, and by the aid of certain gallantries, revenge ourselves on the caprices of love.
LOUISA. You are merry, Baron von Walter!
FERDINAND. Oh! wonderfully so! The very street-boys would hunt me through the market-place for a merry-andrew! In fact, Louisa, your example has inspired me—you shall be my teacher. They are fools who prate of endless affection—never-ending sameness grows flat and insipid —variety alone gives zest to pleasure. Have with you, Louisa, we are now of one mind. We will skip from amour to amour, whirl from vice to vice; you in one direction, I in another. Perhaps I may recover my lost tranquillity in some brothel. Perhaps, when our merry race is run, and we become two mouldering skeletons, chance again may bring us together with the most pleasing surprise, and we may, as in a melodrama, recognize each other by a common feature of disease—that mother whom her children can never disavow. Then, perhaps, disgust and shame may create that union between us which could not be effected by the most tender love.
LOUISA. Oh, Walter! Walter! Thou art already unhappy—wilt thou deserve to be so?
FERDINAND (muttering passionately through his teeth). Unhappy? Who told thee so? Woman, thou art too vile to have any feelings of thine own; how, then, canst thou judge of the feelings of others? Unhappy, did she say?—ha! that word would call my anger from the grave! She knew that I must become unhappy. Death and damnation! she knew it, and yet betrayed me! Look to it, serpent! That was thy only chance of forgiveness. This confession has condemned thee. Till now I thought to palliate thy crime with thy simplicity, and in my contempt thou hadst well nigh escaped my vengeance (seizing the glass hastily). Thou wert not thoughtless, then— thou wert not simple—thou wert nor more nor less than a devil! (He drinks.) The drink is bad, like thy soul! Taste it!
LOUISA. Oh, heavens! 'Twas not without reason that I dreaded this meeting.
FERDINAND (imperiously). Drink! I say.
[LOUISA, offended, takes the glass and drinks. The moment she raises the cup to her lips, FERDINAND turns away with a sudden paleness, and recedes to the further corner of the chamber.]
LOUISA. The lemonade is good.
FERDINAND (his face averted and shuddering.) Much good may it do thee!
LOUISA (sets down the glass). Oh! could you but know, Walter, how cruelly you wrong me!
LOUISA. A time will come, Walter——
FERDINAND (advancing). Oh! we have done with time.
LOUISA. When the remembrance of this evening will lie heavy on your heart!
FERDINAND (begins to walk to and fro more vehemently, and to become more agitated; he throws away his sash and sword.) Farewell the prince's service!
LOUISA. My God! what mean you!
FERDINAND. I am hot, and oppressed. I would be more at ease.
LOUISA. Drink! drink! it will cool you.
FERDINAND. That it will, most effectually. The strumpet, though, is kind-hearted! Ay, ay, so are they all!
LOUISA (rushing into his arms with the deepest expression of love). That to thy Louisa, Ferdinand?
FERDINAND (thrusting her from him). Away! away! Hence with those soft and melting eyes! they subdue me. Come to me, snake, in all thy monstrous terrors! Spring upon me, scorpion! Display thy hideous folds, and rear thy proud coils to heaven! Stand before my eyes, hateful as the abyss of hell e'er saw thee! but not in that angel form! Take any shape but that! 'Tis too late. I must crush thee like a viper, or despair! Mercy on thy soul!
LOUISA. Oh! that it should come to this!
FERDINAND (gazing on her). So fair a work of the heavenly artist! Who would believe it? Who can believe it? (Taking her hand and elevating it.) I will not arraign thy ordinations, oh! incomprehensible Creator! Yet wherefore didst thou pour thy poison into such beauteous vessels? Can crime inhabit so fair a region? Oh! 'tis strange! 'tis passing strange!
LOUISA. To hear this, and yet be compelled to silence!
FERDINAND. And that soft, melodious voice! How can broken chords discourse such harmony? (Gazing rapturously upon her figure.) All so lovely! so full of symmetry! so divinely perfect! Throughout the whole such signs that 'twas the favorite work of God! By heaven, as though all mankind had been created but to practise the Creator, ere he modelled this his masterpiece! And that the Almighty should have failed in the soul alone? Is it possible that this monstrous abortion of nature should have escaped as perfect? (Quitting her hastily.) Or did God see an angel's form rising beneath his chisel, and balance the error by giving her a heart wicked in proportion?
LOUISA. Alas for this criminal wilfulness! Rather than confess his own rashness, he accuses the wisdom of heaven!
FERDINAND (falls upon her neck, weeping bitterly). Yet once more, my Louisa! Yet once again, as on the day of our first kiss, when you faltered forth the name of Ferdinand, and the first endearing "Thou!" trembled on thy burning lips. Oh! a harvest of endless and unutterable joys seemed to me at that moment to be budding forth. There lay eternity like a bright May-day before our eyes; thousands of golden years, fair as brides, danced around our souls. Then was I so happy! Oh! Louisa! Louisa! Louisa! Why hast thou used me thus?
LOUISA. Weep, Walter, weep! Your compassion will be more just towards me than your wrath.
FERDINAND. You deceive yourself. These are not nature's tears! not that warm delicious dew which flows like balsam on the wounded soul, and drives the chilled current of feeling swiftly along its course. They are solitary ice-cold drops! the awful, eternal farewell of my love! (With fearful solemnity, laying his hand on her head.) They are tears for thy soul, Louisa! tears for the Deity, whose inexhaustible beneficence has here missed its aim, and whose noblest work is cast away thus wantonly. Oh methinks the whole universe should clothe itself in black, and weep at the fearful example now passing in its centre. 'Tis but a common sorrow when mortals fall and Paradise is lost; but, when the plague extends its ravages to angels, then should there be wailing throughout the whole creation!
LOUISA. Drive me not to extremities, Walter. I have fortitude equal to most, but it must not be tried by a more than human test. Walter! one word, and then—we part forever. A dreadful fatality has deranged the language of our hearts. Dared I unclose these lips, Walter, I could tell thee things! I could——But cruel fate has alike fettered my tongue and my heart, and I must endure in silence, even though you revile me as a common strumpet.
FERDINAND. Dost thou feel well, Louisa?
LOUISA. Why that question?
FERDINAND. It would grieve me shouldst thou be called hence with a lie upon thy lips.
LOUISA. I implore you, Walter——
FERDINAND (in violent agitation). No! no! That revenge were too satanic! No! God forbid! I will not extend my anger beyond the grave! Louisa, didst thou love the marshal? Thou wilt leave this room no more!
LOUISA (sitting down). Ask what you will. I shall give no answer.
FERDINAND (in a solemn voice). Take heed for thy immortal soul! Louisa! Didst thou love the marshal? Thou wilt leave this room no more!
LOUISA. I shall give no answer.
FERDINAND (throwing himself on his knees before her in the deepest emotion). Louisa! Didst thou love the marshal? Before this light burns out—thou wilt stand—before the throne of God!
LOUISA (starting from her seat in terror). Merciful Jesus! what was that? And I feel so ill! (She falls back into her chair.)
FERDINAND. Already? Oh, woman, thou eternal paradox! thy delicate nerves can sport with crimes at which manhood trembles; yet one poor grain of arsenic destroys them utterly!
LOUISA. Poison! poison! Oh! Almighty God!
FERDINAND. I fear it is so! Thy lemonade was seasoned in hell! Thou hast pledged death in the draught!
LOUISA. To die! To die! All-merciful God! Poison in my drink! And to die! Oh! have mercy on my soul, thou Father in heaven!
FERDINAND. Ay, be that thy chief concern: I will join thee in that prayer.
LOUISA. And my mother! My father, too! Saviour of the world! My poor forlorn father! Is there then no hope? And I so young, and yet no hope? And must I die so soon?
FERDINAND. There is no hope! None!—you are already doomed! But be calm. We shall journey together.
LOUISA. Thou too, Ferdinand? Poison, Ferdinand! From thee! Oh! God forgive him! God of mercy, lay not this crime on him!
FERDINAND. Look to your own account. I fear it stands but ill.
LOUISA. Ferdinand! Ferdinand! Oh! I can be no longer silent. Death— death absolves all oaths. Ferdinand! Heaven and earth contain nothing more unfortunate than thou! I die innocent, Ferdinand!
FERDINAND (terrified). Ah! What do I hear? Would she rush into the presence of her Maker with a lie on her lips?
LOUISA. I lie not! I do not lie! In my whole life I never lied but once! Ugh! what an icy shivering creeps through my veins! When I wrote that letter to the marshal.
FERDINAND. Ha! That letter! Blessed be to God! Now I am myself again!
LOUISA (her voice every moment becomes more indistinct. Her fingers tremble with a convulsive motion). That letter. Prepare yourself for a terrible disclosure! My hand wrote what my heart abhorred. It was dictated by your father! (Ferdinand stands like a statue petrified with horror. After a long silence, he falls upon the floor as if struck by lightning.) Oh! that sorrowful act!——Ferdinand—I was compelled— forgive me—thy Louisa would have preferred death—but my father—his life in danger! They were so crafty in their villany.
FERDINAND (starting furiously from the ground). God be thanked! The poison spares me yet! (He seizes his sword.)
LOUISA (growing weaker by degrees). Alas! what would you? He is thy father!
FERDINAND (in the most ungovernable fury). A murderer—the murderer of his son; he must along with us that the Judge of the world may pour his wrath on the guilty alone. (Hastening away).
LOUISA. My dying Redeemer pardoned his murderers,—may God pardon thee and thy father! (She dies.)
FERDINAND (turns quickly round, and perceives her in the convulsions of death, throws himself distractedly on the body). Stay! stay! Fly not from me, angel of light! (Takes her hand, but lets it fall again instantly.) Cold! cold and damp! her soul has flown! (Starting up suddenly.) God of my Louisa! Mercy! Mercy for the most accursed of murderers! Such was her dying prayer! How fair, how lovely even in death! The pitying destroyer has touched gently on those heavenly features. That sweetness was no mask—the hand of death even has not removed it! (After a pause.) But how is this? why do I feel nothing. Will the vigor of my youth save me? Thankless care! That shall it not. (He seizes the glass.)