Fiction > Harvard Classics > Gotthold Ephraim Lessing > Minna von Barnhelm
Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729–1781).  Minna von Barnhelm.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
Act IV
Scene VI
MAJOR VON TELLHEIM (in the same coat, but otherwise as FRANZISKA advised),  MINNA,  FRANZISKA

  Maj. T.  Madam, you will excuse the delay.
  Min.  Oh! Major, we will not treat each other in quite such a military fashion. You are here now; and to await a pleasure, is itself a pleasure. Well (looking at him and smiling) dear Tellheim, have we not been like children?  2
  Maj. T.  Yes, Madam; like children, who resist when they ought to obey quietly.  3
  Min.  We will drive out, dear Major, to see a little of the town, and afterwards to meet my uncle.  4
  Maj. T.  What!  5
  Min.  You see, we have not yet had an opportunity of mentioning the most important matters even. He is coming here to-day. It was accident that brought me here without him, a day sooner.  6
  Maj. T.  Count von Bruchsal! Has he returned?  7
  Min.  The troubles of the war drove him into Italy: peace has brought him back again. Do not be uneasy, Tellheim; if we formerly feared on his part the greatest obstacle to our union—  8
  Maj. T.  To our union!  9
  Min.  He is not your friend. He has heard too much good of from too many people, not to become so. He longs to become personally acquainted with the man whom his heiress has chosen. He comes as uncle, as guardian, as father, to give me to you.  10
  Maj. T.  Ah! dear lady, why did you not read my letter? Why would you not read it?  11
  Min.  Your letter! Oh! yes, I remember you sent me one. What did you do with that letter, Franziska? Did we, or did we not read it? What was it you wrote to me, dear Tellheim?  12
  Maj. T.  Nothing but what honour commands me.  13
  Min.  That is, not to desert an honourable woman who loves you. Certainly that is what honour commands. Indeed, I ought to have read your letter. But what I have not read, I shall hear, shall not I?  14
  Maj. T.  Yes, you shall hear it.  15
  Min.  No, I need not even hear it. It speaks for itself. As if you could be guilty of such an unworthy act, as not to take me! Do you know that I should be pointed at for the rest of my life? My countrywomen would talk about me, and say. “That is she, that is the Fräulein von Barnhelm, who fancied that because she was rich could carry marry the noble Tellheim; as if such men were to be caught with money.” That is what they would say, for they are all envious of me. That I am rich, they cannot deny; but they do not wish to acknowledge that I am also a tolerably good girl, who would prove herself worthy of her husband. Is that not so, Tellheim?  16
  Maj. T.  Yes, yes, Madam, that is like your countrywomen. They will envy you exceedingly a discharged officer, with sullied honour, a cripple, and a beggar.  17
  Min.  And are you all that? If I mistake not, you told me something of the kind this forenoon. Therein is good and evil mixed. Let us examine each charge more closely. You are discharged? So you say. I thought your regiment was only drafted into another. How did it happen that a man of your merit was not retained?  18
  Maj. T.  It has happened, as it must happen. The great ones are convinced that a soldier does very little through regard for them, not much more from a sense of duty, but everything for his own advantage. What then can they think they owe him? Peace has made a great many, like myself superfluous to them; and at last we shall all be superfluous.  19
  Min.  You talk as a man must talk, to whom in return the great are quite superfluous. And never were they more so than now. I return my best thanks to the great ones that they have given up their claims to a man whom I would very unwillingly have shared with them. I am your sovereign, Tellheim; you want no other master. To find you discharged, is a piece of good fortune I dared scarcely dream of? But you are not only discharged; you are more. And what are you more? A cripple, you say! Well! (looking at him from head to foot), the cripple is tolerably whole and upright—appears still to be pretty well, and strong. Dear Tellheim, if you expect to go begging on the strength of your limbs, I prophesy that you will be relieved at very few doors; except at the door of a good-natured girl like myself.  20
  Maj. T.  I only hear the joking girl now, dear Minna.  21
  Min.  And I only hear the “dear Minna” in your chiding. I will not joke any longer; for I recollect that after all you are something of a cripple. You are wounded by a shot in the right arm; but all things considered, I do not find much fault with that. I am so much the more secure from your blows.  22
  Maj. T.  Madam!  23
  Min.  You would say, “You are so much the less secure from mine.” Well, well, dear Tellheim, I hope you will not drive me to that.  24
  Maj. T.  You laugh, Madam. I only lament that I cannot laugh with you.  25
  Min.  Why not? What have you to say against laughing? Cannot one be very serious even whilst laughing? Dear Major, laughter keeps us more rational than vexation. The proof is before us. Your laughing friend judges of your circumstances more correctly than you do yourself. Because you are discharged, you say your honour is sullied; because you are wounded in the arm, you call yourself a cripple. Is that right? Is that no exaggeration? And is it my doing that all exaggerations are so open to ridicule? I dare say, if I examine your beggary that it will also be as little able to stand the test. You may have lost your equipage once, twice, or thrice; your deposits in the hands of this or that banker may have disappeared together with those of other people; you may have no hope of seeing this or that money again which you may have advanced in the service; but are you a beggar on that account? If nothing else remained to you but what my uncle is bringing for you—  26
  Maj. T.  Your uncle, Madam, will bring nothing for me.  27
  Min.  Nothing but the two thousand pistoles which you so generously advanced to our government.  28
  Maj. T.  If you had but read my letter, Madam!  29
  Min.  Well, I did read it. But what I read in it, on this point, is a perfect riddle. It is impossible that any one should wish to turn a noble action into a crime. But explain to me, dear Major.  30
  Maj. T.  You remember, Madam, that I had orders to collect the contribution for the war most strictly in cash in all the districts in your neighbourhood. I wished to forego this severity, and advanced the money that was deficient myself.  31
  Min.  I remember it well. I loved you for that deed before I had seen you.  32
  Maj. T.  The government gave me their bill, and I wished, at the signing of the peace, to have the sum entered amongst the debts to be repaid by them. The bill was acknowledged as good, but my ownership of the same was disputed. People looked incredulous, when I declared that I had myself advanced the amount in cash. It was considered as bribery, as a douceur from the government, because I at once agreed to take the smallest sum with which I could have been satisfied in a case of the greatest exigency. Thus the bill went from my possession, and if it be paid, will certainly not be paid to me. Hence, Madam, I consider my honour to be suspected! not on account of my discharge, which, if I had not received, I should have applied for. You look serious, Madam! Why do you not laugh? Ha! ha! ha! I am laughing.  33
  Min.  Oh! stifle that laugh, Tellheim, I implore you! It is the terrible laugh of misanthropy. No, you are not the man to repent of a good deed, because it may have had a bad result for yourself. Nor can these consequences possibly be of long duration. The truth must come to light. The testimony of my uncle, of our government—  34
  Maj. T.  Of your uncle! Of your government! Ha! ha! ha!  35
  Min.  That laugh will kill me, Tellheim. If you believe in virtue and Providence, Tellheim, do not laugh so! I never heard a curse more terrible than that laugh! But, viewing the matter in the worst light, if they are determined to mistake your character here, with us you will not be misunderstood. No, we cannot, we will not, misunderstand you, Tellheim. And if our government has the least sentiment of honour, I know what it must do. But I am foolish; what would that matter? Imagine, Tellheim, that you have lost the two thousand pistoles on some gay evening. The king was an unfortunate card for you: the queen (pointing to herself) will be so much the more favourable. Providence, believe me, always indemnifies a man of honour—often even beforehand. The action which was to cost you two thousand pistoles, gained you me. Without that action, I never should have been desirous of making your acquaintance. You know I went uninvited to the first party where I thought I should meet you. I went entirely on your account. I went with a fixed determination to love you—I loved you already! with the fixed determination to make you mine, if I should find you as dark and ugly as the Moor of Venice. So dark and ugly you are not; nor will you be so jealous. But, Tellheim, Tellheim, you are yet very like him! Oh! the unmanageable, stubborn man, who always keeps his eye fixed upon the phantom of honour, and becomes hardened against every other sentiment! Your eyes this way! Upon me,—me, Tellheim! (He remains thoughtful and immovable, with his eyes fixed on one spot.) Of what are you thinking? Do you not hear me?  36
  Maj. T.  (absent). Oh, yes; but tell me, how came the Moor into the service of Venice? Had the Moor no country of his own? Why did he hire his arm and his blood to a foreign land?  37
  Min.  (alarmed). Of what are you thinking, Tellheim? It is time to break off. Come! (taking him by the hand). Franziska, let the carriage be brought round.  38
  Maj. T.  (disengaging his hand, and following FRANZISKA). No, Franziska; I cannot have the honour of accompanying your mistress—Madam, let me still retain my senses unimpaired for to-day, and give me leave to go. You are on the right way to deprive me of them. I resist it as much as I can. But hear, whilst I am still myself, what I have firmly determined, and from which nothing in the world shall turn me. If I have not better luck in the game of life; if a complete change in my fortune does not take place; if—  39
  Min.  I must interrupt you, Major. We ought to have told him that at first, Franziska.—You remind of nothing.—Our conversation would have taken quite a different turn, Tellheim, if I had commenced with the good news which the Chevalier de la Marlinière brought just now.  40
  Maj. T.  The Chevalier de la Marlinière! Who is he?  41
  Fran.  He may be a very honest man, Major von Tellheim, except that—  42
  Min.  Silence, Franziska! Also a discharged officer from the Dutch service, who—  43
  Maj. T.  Ah! Lieutenant Riccaut!  44
  Min.  He assured us he was a friend of yours.  45
  Maj. T.  I assure you that I am not his.  46
  Min.  And that some minister or other had told him, in confidence, that your business was likely to have the very best termination. A letter from the king must now be on its way to you.  47
  Maj. T.  How came Riccaut and a minister in company? Something certainly must have happened concerning my affair; for just now the paymaster of the forces told me that the king had set aside all the evidence offered against am, and that I might take back my promise, which I had given in writing, not to depart from here until acquitted. But that will be all. They wish to give me an opportunity of getting away. But they are wrong, I shall not go. Sooner shall the utmost distress waste me away before the eyes of my calumniators, than—  48
  Min.  Obstinate man!  49
  Maj. T.  I require no favour; I want justice. My honour—  50
  Min.  The honour of such a man—  51
  Maj. T.  (warmly). No, Madam, you may be able to judge of any other subject, but not of this. Honour is not the voice of conscience, not the evidence of a few honourable men—  52
  Min.  No, no, I know it well. Honour is … honour.  53
  Maj. T.  In short, Madam… You did not let me finish.—I was going to say, if they keep from me so shamefully what is my own; if my honour be not perfectly righted—I cannot, Madam, ever be yours, for I am not worthy, in the eyes of the world, of being yours. Minna von Barnhelm deserves an irreproachable husband. It is a worthless love which does not scruple to expose its object to scorn. He is a worthless man, who is not ashamed to owe a woman all his good fortune; whose blind tenderness—  54
  Min.  And is that really your feeling, Major? (turning her back suddenly). Franziska!  55
  Maj. T.  Do not be angry.  56
  Min.  (aside to FRANZISKA). Now is the time! What do you advise me, Franziska?  57
  Fran.  I advise nothing. But certainly he goes rather too far.  58
  Maj. T.  (approaching to interrupt them). You are angry, Madam.  59
  Min.  (ironically). I? Not in the least.  60
  Maj. T.  If I loved you less—  61
  Min.  (still in the same tone). Oh! certainly, it would be a misfortune for me. And hear, Major, I also will not be the cause of your unhappiness. One should love with perfect disinterestedness. It is as well that I have not been more open! Perhaps your pity might have granted to me what your love refuses.  (Drawing the ring slowly from her finger.)  62
  Maj. T.  What does this mean, Madam?  63
  Min.  No, neither of us must make the other either more or less happy. True love demands it. I believe you, Major; and you have too much honour to mistake love.  64
  Maj. T.  Are you jesting, Madam?  65
  Min.  Here! take back the ring with which you plighted your troth to me. (Gives him the ring.) Let it be so! We will suppose we have never met.  66
  Maj. T.  What do I hear?  67
  Min.  Does it surprise you? Take it, sir. You surely have not been pretending only!  68
  Maj. T.  (takes the ring from her). Heavens! can Minna speak thus?  69
  Min.  In one case you cannot be mine; in no case can I be yours. Your misfortune is probable; mine is certain. Farewell!  (Is going.)  70
  Maj. T.  Where are you going, dearest Minna?  71
  Min.  Sir, you insult me now by that term of endearment.  72
  Maj. T.  What is the matter, Madam? Where are you going?  73
  Min.  Leave me. I go to hide my tears from you, deceiver!  (Exit.)  74


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