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Fanny quickly gave him her hand. "Pardon me," she said, cordially. "I have pained you quite unintentionally; the grief of this hour has rendered me cruel. No, I do not believe that you, merely for your own sake, addressed this question to me; I know, on the contrary, that you entertain for me the sympathy of a brother, of a friend, and I am satisfied that your question had my happiness in view as well as yours."
"Well," he said, with the semblance of perfect calmness, "let me repeat my question, then: do you want to be divorced from me?"
Fanny slowly shook her head. "Why?" she asked, sadly. "I repeat to you what I told you once already; we are living in Siberia--let us remain there. We are accustomed to a freezing temperature; we might die, perhaps, in a warmer zone."
"Or your heart might exult, perhaps, with happiness and delight," said the baron, and now HIS eyes were fixed inquiringly upon her face. "You called me just now your friend, you admitted that I felt for you the sympathy of a brother; well, then, let me speak to you as your brother and friend. Do not reject the offer of a divorce so quickly, Fanny, for I tell you now I shall never renew it, and if you do not give me up to-day, you are chained to me forever, for I shall never be capable again of a courage so cruel against myself. Consider the offer well, therefore. Think of your youth, your beauty, and your inward loneliness. Remember that your heart is yearning for love and pining away in its dreary solitude. And now look around, Fanny; see how many of the most distinguished and eminent cavaliers are surrounding you, and longing for a glance, for a smile from you. See by how many you are being loved and adored, and then ask yourself whether or not among all these cavaliers no one would be able to conquer your heart if it were free? For I know your chaste virtue; I know that, although chained to an unbeloved husband, you never would prove faithless to him and avow love to another so long as you were not free. Imagine, then, you were free, and then ask your heart if it will not decide for one of your many adorers."
"No, no," she said, deprecatingly, "I cannot imagine a state of affairs that does not exist; as I am not free, I must not entertain the thoughts of a free woman."
Her husband approached her, and seizing her hand, looked at her in a most touching and imploring manner.
"Then you have forgotten that five years ago, on our wedding-day, you promised me always to trust me?" he asked. "You have forgotten that you took an oath that you would tell me so soon as your heart had declared for another man?"
Fanny could not bear his look, and lowered her eyes.
"It has not declared for another man, and, therefore, I have nothing to confide to you," she said, in a low voice.
The baron constantly held her hand in his own, and his eyes were still fixed on her face.
"Let us consider the matter together," he said. "Permit me to review your cavaliers and admirers, and to examine with you if there is not one among them whom you may deem worthy of your love."
"What!" ejaculated Fanny, having recourse to an outburst of merriment in order to conceal her embarrassment, "you want to make me a Portia, and perform with me a scene from the 'Merchant of Venice?'"
"Yes, you are Portia, and I will play the role of your confidant," said Baron Arnstein, smiling. "Well, let us begin our review. First, there is Count Palfy, a member of the old nobility, of the most faultless manners, young, rich, full of ardent love for--"
"For your dinner-parties and the rare dishes that do not cost him any thing," interrupted Fanny. "He is an epicure, who prefers dining at other people's tables because he is too stingy to pay for the Indian birds'-nests which he relishes greatly. As for myself, he never admires me until after dinner, for so soon as his stomach is at rest his heart awakes and craves for food; and his heart is a gourmand, too--it believes love to be a dish; voila tout!"
"Next, there is the handsome Marchese Pallafredo," said her husband, smiling.
"He loves me because he has been told that I speak excellent and pure German, and because he wants me to teach him how to speak German. He takes me for a grammar, by means of which he may become familiar with our language without any special effort."
"Then there is Count Esterhazy, one of our most brilliant cavaliers; you must not accuse him of stinginess, for he is just the reverse, a spendthrift, squandering his money with full hands; nor must you charge him with being an epicure, for he scarcely eats any thing at all at our dinner-parties, and does not know what he is eating, his eyes being constantly riveted on you, and his thoughts being occupied exclusively with you."
"It is true, he admires me," said Fanny, calmly, "but only a few months ago he was as ardent an adorer of my sister Eskeles, and before he was enamoured of her, he was enthusiastically in love with Countess Victoria Colloredo. He loves every woman who is fashionable in society for the time being, and his heart changes as rapidly as the fashions."
"Besides, there is the prebendary, Baron Weichs," said her husband; "a gentleman of great ability, a savant, and withal a cavalier, a--"
"Oh, pray do not speak of him!" exclaimed Fanny, with an air of horror. "His love is revolting to me, and fills me with shame and dismay. Whenever he approaches me my heart shrinks back as if from a venomous serpent, and a feeling of disgust pervades my whole being, although I am unable to account for it. There is something in his glances that is offensive to me; and although he has never dared to address me otherwise than in the most respectful and reserved manner, his conversation always makes me feel as though I were standing under a thunder-cloud from which the lightning might burst forth at any moment to shatter me. As you say, he is a man of ability, but he is a bad man; he is passionately fond of the ladies, but he does not respect them."
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Louisa of Prussia and Her Times -by- Louisa MuhlbachBottom Content goes here. Wikipedia content requires these links..... Wikipedia content is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.