Yes, you see, Clara; you spoke about keeping one’s word. Just because I am a man of my word I must answer you again as I have already answered once before. A week ago I wrote you a letter—you cannot deny it—there it lies! [He hands her the letter, which she takes mechanically.] I had reason—your brother—you say he is acquitted—I am glad of that! But during these eight days I have entered into a new relation. I had a right to do it, for you did not protest against my letter at the right time! I was free in my own conscience, as well as before the law. Now you come to me—but I have already given my promise and received another’s! [To himself.] I would it were so!—The other girl is already in the same predicament as you are! I am sorry for you, but [He strokes her hair, and she permits it, as if she were absolutely unconscious of it]—you understand?—One cannot trifle with the burgomaster!
Trifle with him!
See! You are getting sensible! And as far as your father is concerned, you can say it boldly to his face that he alone is to blame. Do not stare at me so; do not shake your head! It is so, girl, it is so! Just tell him that! He’ll understand it all right, and repent! I’ll vouch for that! [To himself.] Any man who gives away his daughter’s dowry must not be surprised if she remains an old maid. When I think of that my back gets stiff, and I could wish that the old fellow were here to receive a lecture. Why must I be such a monster?—Only because he was a fool! Whatever happens as a result of that, he is to blame for it! That is obvious!
Or would you prefer to have me talk with him myself? For your sake I will risk a black eye and go to him. He may be rough with me, he may throw the boot-jack at my head, but he will have to swallow the truth in spite of the stomach-ache it gives him, and let you rest in peace!—Is he at home?
CLARA (stands up straight).
I thank you!
[Starts to go.]
Shall I go over with you? I have the courage!
I thank you as I would thank a serpent which had wound itself around me and unwound itself and sprung away again, because another prey enticed it. I know that I have been bitten, I know that it deserts me only because it does not seem worth the trouble to suck out what little marrow there is left in my bones. But still I thank the snake, for now I shall have a quiet death. Yes, man, I am not mocking; to me it is as if I had seen through your breast down into the abyss of hell, and whatever may be my lot in the awful eternity to come, I shall never have anything more to do with you, and that is a consolation! And just as the unfortunate person whom a viper has stung cannot be blamed for opening his veins in terror and disgust, in order that his poisoned blood may