A room in LADY MILFORD'S house. On the right of the stage stands a sofa, on the left a pianoforte.
LADY MILFORD, in a loose but elegant negligee, is running her hand over the keys of the pianoforte as SOPHY advances from the window.
SOPHY. The parade is over, and the officers are separating, but I see no signs of the major.
LADY MILFORD (rises and walks up and down the room in visible agitation). I know not what ails me to-day, Sophy! I never felt so before—you say you do not see him! It is evident enough that he is by no means impatient for this meeting—my heart feels oppressed as if by some heavy crime. Go! Sophy, order the most spirited horse in the stable to be saddled for me—I must away into the open air where I may look on the blue sky and hear the busy hum of man. I must dispel this gloominess by change and motion.
SOPHY. If you feel out of spirits, my lady, why not invite company! Let the prince give an entertainment here, or have the ombre table brought to you. If the prince and all his court were at my beck and call I would let no whim or fancy trouble me!
LADY MILFORD (throwing herself on the couch). Pray, spare me. I would gladly give a jewel in exchange for every hour's respite from the infliction of such company! I always have my rooms tapestried with these creatures! Narrow-minded, miserable beings, who are quite shocked if by chance a candid and heartfelt word should escape one's lips! and stand aghast as though they saw an apparition; slaves, moved by a single puppet-wire, which I can govern as easily as the threads of my embroidery! What can I have in common with such insipid wretches, whose souls, like their watches, are regulated by machinery? What pleasure can I have in the society of people whose answers to my questions I know beforehand? How can I hold communion with men who dare not venture on an opinion of their own lest it should differ from mine! Away with them—I care not to ride a horse that has not spirit enough to champ the bit! (Goes to the window.)
SOPHY. But surely, my lady, you except the prince, the handsomest, the wittiest, and the most gallant man in all his duchy.
LADY MILFORD (returning). Yes, in his duchy, that was well said—and it is only a royal duchy, Sophy, that could in the least excuse my weakness. You say the world envies me! Poor thing! It should rather pity me! Believe me, of all who drink of the streams of royal bounty there is none more miserable than the sovereign's favorite, for he who is great and mighty in the eyes of others comes to her but as the humble suppliant! It is true that by the talisman of his greatness he can realize every wish of my heart as readily as the magician calls forth the fairy palace from the depths of the earth! He can place the luxuries of both Indies upon my table, turn the barren wilderness to a paradise, can bid the broad rivers of his land play in triumphal arches over my path, or expend all the hard-earned gains of his subjects in a single feu-de-joie to my honor. But can he school his heart to respond to one great or ardent emotion? Can he extort one noble thought from his weak and indigent brain? Alas! my heart is thirsting amid all this ocean of splendor; what avail, then, a thousand virtuous sentiments when I am only permitted to indulge in the pleasures of the senses.
SOFHY (regarding her with surprise). Dear lady, you amaze me! how long is it since I entered your service?
LADY MILFORD. Do you ask because this is the first day on which you have learnt to know me? I have sold my honor to the prince, it is true, but my heart is still my own—a heart, dear Sophy, which even yet may be worth the acceptance of an honorable man—a heart over which the pestilential blast of courtly corruption has passed as the breath which for a moment dims the mirror's lustre. Believe me my spirit would long since have revolted against this miserable thraldom could my ambition have submitted to see another advanced to my place.
SOPHY. And could a heart like yours so readily surrender itself to mere ambition?
LADY MILFORD (with energy). Has it not already been avenged? nay, is it not even at this very moment making me pay a heavy atonement (with emphasis laying her hand on SOPHY'S shoulder)? Believe me, Sophy, woman has but to choose between ruling and serving, but the utmost joy of power is a worthless possession if the mightier joy of being slave to the man we love be denied us.
SOPHY. A truth, dear lady, which I could least of all have expected to hear from your lips!
LADY MILFORD. And wherefore, Sophy? Does not woman show, by her childish mode of swaying the sceptre of power, that she is only fit to go in leading-strings! Have not my fickle humors—my eager pursuit of wild dissipation—betrayed to you that I sought in these to stifle the still wilder throbbings of my heart?
SOPHY (starting back with surprise). This from you, my lady?
LADY MILFORD (continuing with increasing energy). Appease these throbbings. Give me the man in whom my thoughts are centered—the man I adore, without whom life were worse than death. Let me but hear from his lips that the tears of love with which my eyes are bedewed outvie the gems that sparkle in my hair, and I will throw at the feet of the prince his heart and his dukedom, and flee to the uttermost parts of the earth with the man of my love!
SOPHY (looking at her in alarm). Heavens! my lady! control your emotion——
LADY MILFORD (in surprise). You change color! To what have I given utterance? Yet, since I have said thus much, let me say still more—let my confidence be a pledge of your fidelity,—I will tell you all.
SOPHY (looking anxiously around). I fear my lady—I dread it—I have heard enough!
LADY MILFORD. This alliance with the major—you, like the rest of the world, believe to be the result of a court intrigue—Sophy, blush not—be not ashamed of me—it is the work of—my love!
SOPHY. Heavens! As I suspected!
LADY MILFORD. Yes, Sophy, they are all deceived. The weak prince—the diplomatic baron—the silly marshal—each and all of these are firmly convinced that this marriage is a most infallible means of preserving me to the prince, and of uniting us still more firmly! But this will prove the very means of separating us forever, and bursting asunder these execrable bonds. The cheater cheated—outwitted by a weak woman. Ye yourselves are leading me to the man of my heart—this was all I sought. Let him but once be mine—be but mine—then, oh, then, a long farewell to all this despicable pomp!