A high road, a town at a distance--A small inn on one side other road--A cottage on the other.
The Landlord of the inn leads Agatha by the hand out of his house.
Landlord: No, no! no room for you any longer--It is the fair to-day in the next village; as great a fair as any in the German dominions. The country people with their wives and children take up every corner we have.
Agatha: You will turn a poor sick woman out of doors who has spent her last farthing in your house.
Landlord: For that very reason; because she has spent her last farthing.
Agatha: I can work.
Landlord: You can hardly move your hands.
Agatha: My strength will come again.
Landlord: The you may come again.
Agatha: What am I to do? Where shall I go?
Landlord: It is fine weather--you may go any where.
Agatha: Who will give me a morsel of bread to satisfy my hunger?
Landlord: Sick people eat but little.
Agatha: Hard, unfeeling man, have pity.
Landlord: When times are hard, pity is too expensive for a poor man. Ask alms of the different people that go by.
Agatha: Beg! I would rather starve.
Landlord: You may beg and starve too. What a fine lady you are! Many an honest woman has been obliged to beg. Why should not you? [Agatha sits down upon a large stone under a tree.] For instance, here comes somebody; and i will teach you how to begin. [A Countryman, with working tools, crosses the road.] Good day, neighbour Nicholas.
Countryman: Good day. [Stops.]
Landlord: Won't you give a trifle to this poor woman? [Countryman takes no notice, but walks off.] That would not do--the poor man has nothing himself but what he gets by hard labour. Here comes a rich farmer; perhaps he will give you something.
Landlord: Good morning to you, Sir. Under yon tree sits a poor woman in distress, who is in need of your charity.
Farmer: Is she not ashamed of herself? Why don't she work?
Landlord: She has had a fever.--If you would but pay for one dinner--
Farmer: The harvest has been but indifferent, and my cattle and sheep have suffered by a distemper. [Exit
Landlord: My fat, smiling face was not made for begging: you'll have more luck with your thin, sour one--so, I'll leave you to yourself. [Exit
[Agatha rises and comes forward.]
Agatha: Oh Providence! thou hast till this hour protected me, and hast given me fortitude not to despair. Receive my humble thanks, and restore me to health, for the sake of my poor son, the innocent cause of my sufferings, and yet my only comfort. [kneeling] Oh, grant that I may see him once more! See him improved in strength of mind and body; and that by thy gracious mercy he may never be visited with afflictions great as mine. [After a pause] Protect his father too, merciful Providence, and pardon his crime of perjury to me! Here, in the face of heaven (supposing my end approaching, and that I can but a few days longer struggle with want and sorrow), here, I solemnly forgive my seducer for all the ills, the accumulated evils which his allurements, his deceit, and cruelty, have for twenty years past drawn upon me.
Enter a Country Girl with a basket.
Agatha [near fainting]: My dear child, if you could spare me a trifle--
Girl: I have not a farthing in the world--But I am going to market to sell my eggs, and as I come back I'll give you three-pence--And I'll be back as soon as ever I can. [Exit
Agatha: There was a time when I was as happy as this country girl, and as willing to assist the poor in distress. [Retires to the tree and sits down.]
Enter Frederick--He is dressed in a German soldier's uniform, has a knapsack on his shoulders, appears in high spirits, and stops at the door of the inn.
Frederick: Halt! I Stand at ease! It is a very hot day--A draught of good wine will not be amiss. But first let me consult my purse. [Takes out a couple of pieces of money, which he turns about in his hand.] This will do for a breakfast--the other remains for my dinner; and in the evening I shall be at home. [Calls out] Ha! Halloo! Landlord! [Takes notice of Agatha, who is leaning against the tree.] Who is that ? A poor sick woman? She don't beg; but her appearance makes me think she is in want. Must one always wait to give till one is asked? Shall I go without my breakfast now, or lose my dinner? The first I think is the best. Ay, I don't want a breakfast, for dinner time will soon be here. To do good satisfies both hunger and thirst. [Going towards her with the money in his hand.] Take this, good woman.
[She stretches her hand for the gift, looks stedfastly at him, and cries out with astonishment and joy.]
Frederick: Mother! [With amazement and grief.] Mother! For God's sake what is this! How is this! And why do I find my mother thus? Speak!
Agatha: I cannot speak, dear son! [Rising and embracing him.] My dear Frederick! The joy is too great--I was not prepared--
Frederick: Dear mother, compose yourself: [leans against his breast] now, then, be comforted. How she trembles! She is fainting.
Agatha: I am so weak, and my head so giddy--nothing to eat all yesterday.
Frederick: Good heavens! Here is my little money, take it all! Oh mother! mother! [Runs to the inn]. Landlord! Landlord! [knocking violently at the door.]
Landlord: What is the matter?
Frederick: A bottle of wine--quick, quick!
Landlord [surprized]: A bottle of wine! For who?
Frederick: For me. Why do you ask? Why don't you make haste?
Landlord: Well, well, Mr. soldier: but can you pay for it?
Frederick: Here is money--make haste, or I'll break every window in your house.
Landlord: Patience! Patience! [goes off.
Frederick [to Agatha]: You were hungry yesterday when I sat down to a comfortable dinner. You were hungry when I partook of a good supper. Oh! Why is so much bitter mixed with the joy of my return?
Agatha: Be patient, my dear Frederick. Since I see you, I am well. But I have been very ill: so ill, that I despaired of ever beholding you again.
Frederick: Ill, and I was not with you? I will, now, never leave you more. Look, mother, how tall and strong I am grown. These arms can now afford you support. They can, and shall, procure you subsistence.
[Landlord coming out of the house with a small pitcher.]
Landlord: Here is wine--a most delicious nectar. [Aside.] It is only Rhenish; but it will pass for the best old Hock.
Frederick: [impatiently snatching the pitcher] Give it me.
Landlord: No, no--the money first. One shilling and two-pence, if you please.
[Frederick gives him money.]
Frederick: This is all! have.--Here, here, mother.
[While she drinks Landlord counts the money.]
Landlord: Three halfpence too short! However, one must be charitable. [Exit Landlord
Agatha: I thank you, my dear Frederick--Wine revives me--Wine from the hand of my son gives me almost a new life.
Frederick: Don't speak too much, mother.--Take your time.
Agatha: Tell me, dear child, how you have passed the five years since you left me.
Frederick: Both good and bad, mother. To day plenty--to-morrow not so much--And sometimes nothing at all.
Agatha: You have not written to me this long while.
Frederick: Dear mother, consider the great distance I was from you!--And then, in the time of war, how often letters miscarry.--Besides--
Agatha: No matter now I see you. But have you obtained your discharge?
Frederick: Oh, no, mother--I have leave of absence only for two months; and that for a particular reason. But I will not quit you so soon, now I find you are in want of my assistance.
Agatha: No, no, Frederick; your visit will make me so well, that I shall in a very short time recover strength to work again; and you must return to your regiment when your furlough is expired. But you told me leave of absence as granted you for a particular reason.--What reason?
Frederick: When I left you five years ago, you gave me every thing you could afford, and all you thought would be necessary for me. But one trifle you forgot, which was, the certificate of my birth from the church-book.--You know in this country there is nothing to be done without it. At the time of parting from you, I little thought it could be of that consequence to me which I have since found it would have been. Once I became tired of a soldier's life, in the hope I should obtain my discharge, offered myself to a master to learn a profession; but his question was, "Where is your certificate from the church-book of the parish in which you were born?" It vexed me that I had not it to produce, for my comrades laughed at my disappointment. My captain behaved kinder, for he gave me leave to come home to fetch it--and you see, mother, here I am.
[During this speech Agatha is confused and agitated.]
Agatha: So, you are come for the purpose of fetching your certificate from the church-book.
Frederick: Yes, mother.
Agatha: Oh! oh!
Frederick: What is the matter ? [She bursts into tears.] For Heaven's sake, mother, tell me what's the matter?
Agatha: You have no certificate.
Agatha: No.--The laws of Germany excluded you from being registered at your birth--for--you are a natural son!
Frederick: [starts--after a pause]. So!--And who is my father?
Agatha: Oh Frederick, your wild looks are daggers to my heart. Another time.
Frederick: [endeavouring to conceal his emotion]. No, no--I am still your son--and you are still my mother. Only tell me, who is my father?
Agatha: When we parted five years ago, you were too young to be intrusted with a secret of so much importance.--But the time is come when I can, in confidence, open my heart, and unload that burthen with which it has been long oppressed. And yet, to reveal my errors to my child, and sue for his mild judgment on my conduct--
Frederick: You have nothing to sue for; only explain this mystery.
Agatha: I will, I will. But--my tongue is locked with remorse and shame. You must not look at me.
Frederick: Not look at you! Cursed be that son who could find his mother guilty, although the world should call her so.
Agatha: Then listen to me, and take notice of that village, [pointing] of that castle, and of that church. In that village I was born--in that church I was baptized. My parents were poor, but reputable farmers.--The lady of that castle and estate requested them to let me live with her, and she would provide for me through life. They resigned me; and at the age of fourteen I went to my patroness. She took pleasure to instruct me in all kinds of female literature and accomplishments, and three happy years had passed under her protection, when her only son, who was an officer in the Saxon service, obtained permission to come home. I had never seen him before--he was a handsome young man--in my eyes a prodigy; for he talked of love, and promised me marriage. He was the first man who had ever spoken to me on such a subject.--His flattery made me vain, and his repeated vows--Don't look at me, dear Frederick!--I can say no more. [Frederick with his eyes cast down, takes her hand, and puts it to his heart.] Oh! oh! my son! I was intoxicated by the fervent caresses of a young, inexperienced, capricious man, and did not recover from the delirium till it was too late.
Frederick [after a pause]: Go on.--Let me know more of my father.
Agatha: When the time drew near that I could no longer conceal my guilt and shame, my seducer prevailed on me not to expose him to the resentment of his mother. He renewed his former promises of marriage at her death;--on which relying, I gave him my word to be secret--and I have to this hour buried his name deep in my heart.
Frederick: Proceed, proceed! give me full information--I will have courage to hear it all. [Greatly agitated.]
Agatha: His leave of absence expired, he returned to his regiment, depending on my promise, and well assured of my esteem. As soon as my situation became known, I was questioned, and received many severe reproaches: but I refused to confess who was my undoer; and for that obstinacy was turned from the castle.--I went to my parents; but their door was shut against me. My mother, indeed, wept as she bade me quit her sight for ever; but my father wished increased affliction might befall me.
Frederick [weeping]: Be quick with your narrative, or you'll break my heart.
Agatha: I now sought protection from the old clergyman of the parish. He received me with compassion. On my knees I begged forgiveness for the scandal I had caused to his parishioners; promised amendment; and he said he did not doubt me. Through his recommendation I went to town; and hid in humble lodgings, procured the measure of subsistence by teaching to the neighbouring children what I had learnt under the tuition of my benefactress.--To instruct you, my Frederick, was my care and my delight; and in return for your filial love I would not thwart your wishes when they led to a soldier's life: but I saw you go from me with an aching heart. Soon after, my health declined, I was compelled to give up my employment, and, by degrees, became the object you now see me. But, let me add, before I close my calamitous story that--when I left the good old clergyman, taking along with me his kind advice and his blessing, I left him a with a firm determination to fulfil the vow I had made of repentance and amendment. I have fulfilled it--and now, Frederick, you may look at me again. [He embraces her.]
Frederick: But my father all this time? [mournfully] I apprehend he died.
Agatha: No--he married.
Agatha: A woman of virtue--of noble birth and immense fortune. Yet, [weeps] I had written to many times ; had described your infant innocence and wants; had glanced obliquely at former promises--
Frederick [rapidly]: No answer to these letters?
Agatha: Not a word.--But in the time of war, you know, letters miscarry.
Frederick: Nor did he ever return to this estate?
Agatha: No--since the death of his mother this castle has only been inhabited by servants--for he settled as far off as Alsace, upon the estate of his wife.
Frederick: I will carry you in my arms to Alsace. No--why should I ever know my father, if he is a villain! My heart is satisfied with a mother.--No--I will not go to him. I will not disturb his peace--I leave that task to his conscience. What say you, mother, can't we do without him? [Struggling between his fears and his pride.] We don't want him. I will write directly to my captain. Let the consequence be what it will, leave you again I cannot. Should I be able to get my discharge, I will work all day at the plough, and all the night with my pen. It will do, mother, it will do! Heaven's goodness will assist me--it will prosper the endeavours of a dutiful son for the sake of a helpless mother.
Agatha [presses him to her breast]: Where could be found such another son?
Frederick: But tell me my father's name, that I may know how to shun him.
Agatha: Baron Wildenhaim.
Frederick: Baron Wildenhaim! I shall never forget it.--Oh! you are near fainting. Your eyes are cast down. What's the matter ? Speak, mother!
Agatha: Nothing particular.--Only fatigued with talking. I wish to take a little rest.
Frederick: I did not consider that we have been all this time in the open road. [Goes to the Inn, and knocks at the door.] Here, landlord!
Landlord: Well, what is the matter now?
Frederick: Make haste, and get a bed ready for this good woman.
Landlord [with a sneer]: A bed for this good woman! ha, ha, ha! She slept last night in that pent-house; so she may to-night. [Exit, shutting the door.
Frederick: You are an infamous--[goes back to his mother] Oh! my poor mother--[runs to the Cottage at a little distance, and knocks]. Ha! halloo! Who is there?
Cottager: Good day, young soldier.--What is it you want?
Frederick: Good friend, look at that poor woman. She is perishing in the public road! It is my mother.--Will you give her a small corner in your hut? I beg for mercy's sake--Heaven will reward you.
Cottager: Can't you speak quietly? I understand you very well. [Calls at the door of the hut] Wife, shake up our bed--here 's a poor sick woman wants it. [Enter Wife]. Why could not you say all this in fewer words? Why such a long preamble? Why for mercy's sake, and heaven's reward? Why talk about reward for such trifles as these? Come, let us lead her in; and welcome she shall be to a bed, as good as I can give her; and to our homely fare.
Frederick: Ten thousand thanks, and blessings on you!
Wife: Thanks and blessings! here's a piece of work indeed about nothing! Good sick lady, lean on my shoulder. [To Frederick] Thanks and reward indeed! Do you think husband and I have lived to these years, and don't know our duty? Lean on my shoulder.
[Exeunt into the Cottage.