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"At last! at last!" exclaimed Gentz, in a tone of fervid tenderness, approaching Marianne, who went to meet him with a winning smile. "Do you know, dearest, that you have driven me to despair for a whole week? Not a word, not a message from you! Whenever I came to see you, I was turned away. Always the same terrible reply, 'Madame is not at home,' while I felt your nearness in every nerve and vein of mine, and while my throbbing heart was under the magic influence of your presence. And then to be turned away! No reply whatever to my letters, to my ardent prayers to see you only for a quarter of an hour."
"Oh, you ungrateful man!" she said, smiling, "did I not send for you to-day? Did I not give you this rendezvous quite voluntarily?"
"You knew very well that I should have died if your heart had not softened at last. Oh, heavenly Marianne, what follies despair made me commit already! In order to forget you, I plunged into all sorts of pleasures, I commenced new works, I entered upon fresh love- affairs. But it was all in vain. Amidst those pleasures I was sad; during my working hours my mind was wandering, and in order to impart a semblance of truth and tenderness to my protestations of love, I had to close my eyes and imagine YOU were the lady whom I was addressing-."
"And then you were successful?" asked Marianne, smiling.
"Yes, then I was successful," he said, gravely; "but my new lady- love, the beloved of my distraction and despair, did not suspect that I only embraced her so tenderly because I kissed in her the beloved of my heart and of my enthusiasm."
"And who was the lady whom you call the beloved of your distraction and despair?" asked Marianne.
"Ah, Marianne, you ask me to betray a woman?"
"No, no; I am glad to perceive that you are a discreet cavalier. You shall betray no woman. I will tell you her name. The beloved of your distraction and despair was the most beautiful and charming lady in Berlin--it was the actress Christel Eughaus. Let me compliment you, my friend, on having triumphed with that belle over all those sentimental, lovesick princes, counts, and barons. Indeed, you have improved your week of 'distraction and despair' in the most admirable manner."
"Still, Marianne, I repeat to you, she was merely my sweetheart for the time being, and I merely plunged into this adventure in order to forget you."
"Then you love me really?" asked Marianne.
"Marianne, I adore you! You know it. Oh, now I may tell you so. Heretofore you repelled me and would not listen to my protestations of love because I was a MARRIED man. Now, however, I have got rid of my ignominious fetters, Marianne; now I am no longer a married man. I am free, and all the women in the world are at liberty to love me. I am as free as a bird in the air!"
"And like a bird you want to flit from one heart to another?"
"No, most beautiful, most glorious Marianne; your heart shall be the cage in which I shall imprison myself."
"Beware, my friend. What would you say if there was no door in this cage through which you might escape?"
"Oh, if it had a door, I should curse it."
"Then you love me so boundlessly as to be ready to sacrifice to me the liberty you have scarcely regained?"
"Can you doubt it, Marianne?" asked Gentz, tenderly pressing her beautiful hands to his lips.
"Are you in earnest, my friend?" she said, smiling. "So you offer your hand to me? You want to marry me?"
Gentz started back, and looked at her with a surprised and frightened air. Marianne laughed merrily.
"Ah!" she said, "your face is the most wonderful illustration of Goethe's poem. You know it, don't you?" And she recited with ludicrous pathos the following two lines:
"'Heirathen, Kind, ist wunderlich Wort,
"Good Heaven, what a profound knowledge of human nature our great Goethe has got, and how proud I am to be allowed to call him a friend of mine--Heirathen, Kind, ist wunderlich Wort."
"Marianne, you are cruel and unjust, you--"
"And you know the next two lines of the poem?" she interrupted him. "The maiden replied to him:"
"'Heirathen wir eben,
"You mock me," exclaimed Gentz, smiling, "and yet you know the maiden's assurance would not prove true in our case, and that there is something rendering such a happiness, the prospect of calling you my wife, an utter impossibility. Unfortunately, you are no Christian, Marianne. Hence I cannot marry you." [Footnote: Marriages between Christians and Jews were prohibited in the German states at that period.]
"And if I were a Christian?" she asked in a sweet, enchanting voice.
He fixed his eyes with a searching glance upon her smiling, charming face.
"What!" he asked, in evident embarrassment. "If you were a Christian? What do you mean, Marianne?"
"I mean, Frederick, that, I have given the highest proof of my love to the man who loves me so ardently, constantly, and faithfully. For his sake I have become a Christian, Yesterday I was baptized. Now, my friend, I ask you once more, I ask you as a Christian woman: Gentz, will you marry me? Answer me honestly and frankly, my friend! Remember that it is 'the beloved of your heart and of your enthusiasm,' as you called me yourself a few moments ago, who now stands before you and asks for a reply. Remember that this moment will be decisive for our future--speedily, nay, immediately decisive. For you see I have removed all obstacles. I have become a Christian, and I tell you I am ready to become your wife in the course of the present hour. Once more, then, Gentz, will you marry me?"
He had risen and paced the room in great excitement. Marianne followed him with a lurking glance and a scornful smile, but when he now stepped back to her, she quickly assumed her serious air.
"Marianne," he said, firmly, "you want to know the truth, and I love you too tenderly to conceal it from you. I will not, must not, cannot marry you. I WILL not, because I am unable to bear once more the fetters of wedded life. I MUST not, because I should make you unhappy and wretched. I CANNOT, while, doing so, I should act perfidiously toward a friend of mine, for you know very well that the Prince von Reuss is my intimate friend."
"And _I_ am his mistress. You wished to intimate that to me by your last words, I suppose?"
"I wished to intimate that he loves you boundlessly, and he is a generous, magnanimous man, whose heart would break if any one should take you from him."
"For the last time, then: you will not marry me?"
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Louisa of Prussia and Her Times -by- Louisa Muhlbach