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The young Baroness Fanny von Arnstein had just finished her morning toilet and stepped from her dressing-room into her boudoir, in order to take her chocolate there, solitary and alone as ever. With a gentle sigh she glided into the arm-chair, and instead of drinking the chocolate placed before her in a silver breakfast set on the table, she leaned her head against the back of her chair and dreamily looked up to the ceiling. Her bosom heaved profound sighs from time to time, and the ideas which were moving her heart and her soul ever and anon caused a deeper blush to mantle her cheeks; but it quickly disappeared again, and was followed by an even more striking pallor.
She was suddenly startled from her musings by a soft, timid rap at the door leading to the reception-room.
"Good Heaven!" she whispered, "I hope he will not dare to come to me so early, and without being announced."
The rapping at the door was renewed. "I cannot, will not receive him," she muttered; "it will be better not to be alone with him any more. I will bolt the door and make no reply whatever."
She glided with soft steps across the room to the door, and was just about to bolt it, when the rapping resounded for the third time, and a modest female voice asked:
"Are you there, baroness, and may I walk in?"
"Ah, it is only my maid," whispered the baroness, drawing a deep breath, as though an oppressive burden were removed from her breast, and she opened the door herself.
"Well, Fanchon," she asked, in her gentle, winning voice, "what do you want?"
"Pardon me, baroness," said the maid, casting an inquisitive look around the room, "the baron sent for me just now; he asked me if you had risen already and entered your boudoir, and when I replied in the affirmative, the baron gave me a message for you, with the express order, however, not to deliver it until you had taken your chocolate and finished your breakfast. I see now that I must not yet deliver it; the breakfast is still on the table just as it was brought in."
"Take it away; I do not want to eat any thing," said the baroness, hastily. "And now Fanchon, tell me your errand."
Fanchon approached the table, and while she seized the silver salver, she cast a glance of tender anxiety on her pale, beautiful mistress.
"You are eating nothing at all, baroness," she said, timidly; "for a week already I have had to remove the breakfast every morning in the same manner; you never tasted a morsel of it, and the valet de chambre says that you hardly eat any thing at the dinner-table either; you will be taken ill, baroness, if you go on in this manner, and--"
"Never mind, dear Fanchon," her mistress interrupted her with a gentle smile, "I have hardly any appetite, it is true, but I do not feel unwell, nor do I want to be taken ill. Let us say no more about it, and tell me the message the baron intrusted to you."
"The baron wished me to ask you if you would permit him to pay you immediately a visit, and if you would receive him here in your boudoir."
The baroness started, and an air of surprise overspread her features. "Tell the baron that he will be welcome, and that I am waiting for him," she said then, calmly. But so soon as Fanchon had withdrawn, she whispered: "What is the meaning of all this? What is the reason of this unusual visit? Oh, my knees are trembling, and my heart is beating so violently, as though it wanted to burst. Why? What have I done, then? Am I a criminal, who is afraid to appear before her judge?"
She sank back into her arm-chair and covered her blushing face with her hands. "No," she said, after a long pause, raising her head again, "no, I am no criminal, and my conscience is guiltless. I am able to raise my eyes freely to my husband and to my God. So far, I have honestly struggled against my own heart, and I shall struggle on in the same manner. I--ah! he is coming," she interrupted herself when she heard steps in the adjoining room, and her eyes were fixed with an expression of anxious suspense on the door.
The latter opened, and her husband, Baron Arnstein, entered. His face was pale, and indicative of deep emotion; nevertheless, he saluted his wife with a kind smile, and bent down in order to kiss her hand, which she had silently given to him.
"I suppose you expected me?" he asked. "You knew, even before I sent Fanchon to you, that I should come and see you at the present hour?"
Fanny looked at him inquiringly, and in surprise. "I confess," she said, in an embarrassed tone, "that I did not anticipate your visit by any means until Fanchon announced it to me, and I only mention it to apologize for the dishabille in which you find me."
"Ah, you did not expect me, then?" exclaimed the baron, mournfully. "You have forgotten every thing? You did not remember that this is the anniversary of our wedding, and that five years have elapsed since that time?"
"Indeed," whispered Fanny, in confusion, "I did not know that this was the day."
"You felt its burden day after day, and it seemed to you, therefore, as though that ill-starred day were being renewed for you all the year round," exclaimed the baron, sadly. "Pardon my impetuosity and my complaints," he continued, when he saw that she turned pale and averted her face. "I will be gentle, and you shall have no reason to complain of me. But as you have forgotten the agreement which we made five years ago, permit me to remind you of it."
He took a chair, and, sitting down opposite her, fixed a long, melancholy look upon her. "When I led you to the altar five years ago to-day," he said, feelingly, "you were, perhaps, less beautiful than now, less brilliant, less majestic; but you were in better and less despondent spirits, although you were about to marry a man who was entirely indifferent to you."
"Oh, I did not say that you were indifferent to me," said Fanny, in a low voice; "only I did not know you, and, therefore, did not love you."
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Louisa of Prussia and Her Times -by- Louisa Muhlbach