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"Oh, is it possible that I should have been misunderstood in this manner?" sighed the baron, but in so low a voice that Fanny did not hear him.
"You further told me," she continued, eagerly, "that I should only bear the name of your wife before the world, but not in this room where I was always to be Fanny Itzig. You were kind enough to give to this moral divorce, which you pronounced in this manner, the semblance as though YOU were the losing party, and as though you were only actuated by motives of delicacy toward me. I understood it all, however, and when you left this room after that conversation, sir, I sank down on my knees and implored God that He might remain with me in this loneliness to which you had doomed me, and I implored my pride to sustain and support me, and I swore to my maidenly honor that I would preserve it unsullied and sacred to my end."
"Oh, good Heaven!" groaned the baron, tottering backward like a man suddenly seized with vertigo.
Fanny, in her own glowing excitement, did not notice it.
"And thus I commenced my new life," she said, "a life of splendor and magnificence; it was glittering without, but dreary within, and in the midst of our most brilliant circles I constantly felt lonely; surrounded by hundreds who called themselves friends of our house, I was always alone--I, the wife of your reception-room, the disowned of my boudoir! Oh, it is true I have obtained many triumphs; I have seen this haughty world, that only received me hesitatingly, at last bow to me; the Jewess has become the centre of society, and no one on entering our house believes any longer that he is conferring a favor upon us, but, on the contrary, receiving one from us. It is the TON now to visit our house; we are being overwhelmed with invitations, with flattering attentions. But tell me, sir, is all this a compensation for the happiness which we are lacking and which we never will obtain? Oh, is it not sad to think that both of us, so young, so capable of enjoying happiness, should already be doomed to eternal resignation and eternal loneliness? Is it not horrible to see us, and ought not God Himself to pity us, if from the splendor of His starry heavens He should look down for a moment into our gloomy breasts? I bear in it a cold, frozen heart, and you a coffin. Oh, sir, do not laugh at me because you see tears in my eyes--it is only Fanny Itzig who is weeping; Baroness von Arnstein will receive your guests to-night in your saloons with a smiling face, and no one will believe that her eyes also know how to weep. But here, here in my widow-room, here in my nun's cell, I may be permitted to weep over you and me, who have been chained together with infrangible fetters, of which both of us feel the burden and oppression with equal bitterness and wrath. May God forgive our parents for having sacrificed our hearts on the altar of THEIR God, who is Mammon; _I_ shall ever hate them for it; I shall never forgive them, for they who knew life must have known that there is nothing more unhappy, more miserable, and more deplorable than a wife who does not love her husband, is not beloved by him."
"Is not beloved by him!" repeated the baron, approaching his wife who, like a broken reed, had sunk down on a chair, and seizing her hand, he said: "You say that I do not love you, Fanny! Do you know my heart, then? Have you deemed it worth while only a single time to fix your proud eyes on my poor heart? Did you ever show me a symptom of sympathy when I was sick, a trace of compassion when you saw me suffering? But no, you did not even see that I was suffering, or that I was sad. Your proud, cold glance always glided past me; it saw me rarely, it never sought me! What can you know, then, about my heart, and what would you care if I should tell you now that there is no longer a coffin in it, that it has awoke to a new life, and--"
"Baron!" exclaimed Fanny, rising quickly and proudly, "will you, perhaps, carry your magnanimity and delicacy so far as to make me a declaration of love? Did I express myself in my imprudent impetuosity so incorrectly as to make you believe I was anxious even now to gain your love, and that I was complaining of not having obtained it? Do you believe me to be an humble mendicant, to whom in your generosity you want to throw the morsel of a declaration of love? I thank you, sir, I am not hungry, and do not want this morsel. Let us at least be truthful and sincere toward each other, and the truth is, we do not love each other and shall never do so. Let us never try to feign what we never shall feel. And if you now should offer me your love I should have to reject it, for I am accustomed to a freezing temperature; and I should fare like the natives of Siberia, I should die if I were to live in a warmer zone. Both of us are living in Siberia; well, then, as we cannot expect roses to bloom for us, let us try at least to catch sables for ourselves. The sable, moreover, is an animal highly valued by the whole world. People will envy our sable furs, for they know them to be costly; they would laugh at us if we should adorn our heads with roses, for roses are not costly by any means, they are common, and every peasant-girl may adorn herself with them."
"You are joking," said the baron, mournfully, "and yet there are tears glistening in your eyes. However, your will shall be sacred to me. I shall never dare to speak to you again about my heart. But let us speak about you and your future. The five years of our agreement have elapsed, and I am here to confer with you about your future. Tell me frankly and honestly, Fanny, do you wish to be divorced from me?"
She started and fixed a long and searching look on her husband.
"Your father died a year ago," she said, musingly, "you are now the chief of the firm; no one has a right to command any longer what you are to do, and being free now, you may offer your hand to her whom you love, I suppose?"
The baron uttered a shriek, and a death-like pallor overspread his face. "Have I deserved to be thus deeply despised by you?" he ejaculated.
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Louisa of Prussia and Her Times -by- Louisa Muhlbach