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12. Frederick Gentz

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It was yet early in the morning; the blinds of all the windows in the Taubenstrasse were as yet firmly closed, and only in a single house an active, bustling life prevailed. At its door there stood a heavy travelling-coach which a footman was busily engaged in loading with a large number of trunks, boxes, and packages. In the rooms of the first story people were very active; industrious hands were assiduously occupied with packing up things generally; straw was wrapped around the furniture, and then covered with linen bags. The looking-glasses and paintings were taken from the walls and laid into wooden boxes, the curtains were removed from the windows, and every thing indicated that the inmates of the house were not only about to set out on a journey, but entirely to give up their former mode of living.

Such was really the case, and while the servants filled the anterooms and the halls with the noise of their preparations, those for whom all this bustle and activity took place were in their parlor, in a grave and gloomy mood.

There were two of them--a lady, scarcely twenty-four years of age, and a gentleman, about twelve years older. She was a delicate and lovely woman, with a pale, sad face, while he was a vigorous, stout man with full, round features, and large vivacious eyes which at present tried to look grave and afflicted without being able to do so; she wore a travelling-dress, while his was an elegant morning costume.

Both of them had been silent for awhile, standing at the window, or rather at different windows, and witnessing the removal of the trunks and packages to the travelling-coach. Finally, the lady, with a deep sigh, turned from the window and approached the gentleman who had likewise stepped back into the room.

"I believe the trunks are all in the carriage, and I can set out now, Frederick," she said, in a low and tremulous voice.

He nodded, and extended his hand toward her. "And you are not angry with me, Julia?" he asked.

She did not take his hand, but only looked up to him with eyes full of eloquent grief. "I am not angry," she said. "I pray to God that He may forgive you."

"And will YOU forgive me, too, Julia? For I know I have sinned grievously against you. I have made you shed many tears--I have rendered you wretched and miserable for two years, and these two years will cast a gray shadow over your whole future. When you first entered this room, you were an innocent young girl with rosy cheeks and radiant eyes, and now, as you leave it forever, you are a poor, pale woman with a broken heart and dimmed eyes." "A DIVORCED wife, that is all," she whispered, almost inaudibly. "I came here with a heart overflowing with happiness--I leave you now with a heart full of wretchedness. I came here with the joyous resolution and fixed purpose to render you a happy husband, and I leave you now with the painful consciousness that I have not bestowed upon you that happiness which I sought so earnestly to obtain for myself. Ah, it is very sad and bitter to be under the necessity of accepting this as the only result of two long years!"

"Yes, it is very sad," he said, sighing. "But after all, it is no fault of ours. There was a dissonance in our married life from the start, and for that reason there never could be any genuine harmony between us. This dissonance--well, at the present hour I may confess it to you, too--this dissonance simply was the fact that I never loved you!"

A convulsive twitching contracted the pale lips of the poor lady. "You were a great hypocrite, then," she whispered, "for your words, your solemn vows never made me suspect it."

"Yes, I was a hypocrite, a wretch, a coward!" he exclaimed, impetuously. "They overwhelmed me with exhortations, supplications, and representations. They knew so well to flatter me with the idea that the beautiful, wealthy, and much-courted heiress, Julia Gilly, had fallen in love with me, the poor, unknown Frederick Gentz, the humble military counsellor. They knew so well to depict to me the triumph I would obtain by marrying you, to the great chagrin of all your other suitors. Flattery intoxicates me, and a success, a triumph over others, fills me with the wildest delight. My father spoke of my debts, my creditors threatened me with suits and imprisonment--"

"And thus," she interrupted him--"thus you sacrificed me to your vanity and to your debts--you falsely vowed a love to me which you never felt, and accepted my hand. My father paid your debts, you solemnly promised to all of us not to incur any new ones, but you utterly broke your pledges. Instead of squandering hundreds as heretofore, you henceforth lavished thousands, until my whole maternal property was gone--until my father, in a towering passion, turned his back upon us and swore never to see us again. The creditors, the debts, the embarrassments, reappeared, and as I had no money left with which to extricate you from your difficulties, you thought you owed me no further respect and were not under the necessity of remembering that I was your wife. You had a number of love-affairs, as I knew very well, but was silent. Love-letters arrived for you, not from one woman with whom you had fallen in love, but from God knows how many. I was aware of it and was silent. And when you were finally shameless enough to let the whole city witness your passion for an actress--when all Berlin spoke contemptuously of this flame of yours and of the follies you committed in consequence--then I could be silent no longer, and my honor and dignity commanded me to apply for a divorce."

"And every one must acknowledge that you were perfectly right. As a friend I could not have given you myself any other advice, for I shall not and cannot alter my nature. I am unable to accustom myself to a quiet and happy family life--domestic felicity is repulsive to me, and a feeling of restraint makes me rear and plunge like the noble charger feeling his bit and bridle for the first time. I can bear no chains, Julia, not even those of an excellent and affectionate wife such as you have been to me."

 

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Louisa of Prussia and Her Times -by- Louisa Muhlbach

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