Summary (Masterplots, Definitive Revised Edition)
Major von Tellheim had been wounded in the right arm, and after heroic deeds he had been discharged from the army. Crippled and poor, he had been put out of his room at the inn; in his absence his effects had been placed in a mean chamber with no view. The landlord had perhaps been justified. Two ladies had arrived asking for good accommodations, and Tellheim was behind in his rent.
Tellheim’s servant, Just, sat in the inn parlor muttering about the injustice done to his master. The landlord came in and gave Just several drinks, but the worthy servant would not cease his complaints. Tellheim, entering in time to hear some of the dispute, ended the controversy by saying that the bill would be paid and that he would move out immediately. The landlord declared he was not afraid the bill would not be paid, for he had found a rich purse in Tellheim’s writing desk.
When they were alone, Tellheim explained to Just that the money in the purse belonged to Werner, his sergeant; it was a trust. For immediate needs Tellheim asked his servant to pawn a ring for eighty louis. He tried to dismiss Just with a month’s wages, but the servant preferred to work on for nothing. Then a widow came in to repay a loan Tellheim had made to her dead husband. Tellheim sent her away, vowing her husband owed him nothing. Werner tried to help the major by giving him all he could realize from the sale of his farm, but Tellheim would accept no help.
The ladies who had taken Tellheim’s rooms were Minna von Barnhelm, a rich girl of twenty-one, and Franziska, her maid. Minna was agitated, for she had come in search of Tellheim. They had been betrothed, but she had had no word from him since the peace.
The landlord, who was inquisitive about his guests, came to their room to fill out an official form. When his questions became too personal, Minna, to turn the conversation, asked about the soldier whose room they had taken. The landlord contemptuously declared that he was only a discharged officer and showed her the ring Just had pawned with him. Minna recognized it at once as the ring she had given Tellheim. In the joy of her recognition, she put money to redeem it on the table and asked the landlord to bring in Tellheim at once.
When Tellheim first saw Minna, he spoke to her as a lover; but he promptly recovered himself and addressed her more formally. Hurt, Minna demanded a direct answer as to whether he still loved her. Tellheim admitted that he did. Crippled as he was, however, penniless, and discharged from service, he was no longer a suitable husband.
Tellheim wrote a note to Minna in which he explained fully why he could no longer expect to marry her. While Just was delivering the note, he fell into conversation with Franziska, who asked about the rest of Tellheim’s servants. Just admitted that he alone was left. The valet had decamped with Tellheim’s wardrobe; the huntsman had been imprisoned for treachery during the war, and the footman had run up debts in Tellheim’s...
(The entire section is 1235 words.)
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