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   Chapter 33 THE RETURN HOME.

Old Fritz and the New Era By L. Muhlbach Characters: 23749

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:02


The beautiful house which Herr Ebenstreit von Leuthen possessed upon the finest street in Berlin, "Unter den Linden," had been newly arranged and splendidly ornamented since his marriage and elevation to a title, and now awaited his arrival. For many weeks mechanics and artists had been busily employed; and the good housekeeper, old Trude, saw with bewildering astonishment the daily increasing splendor of gilded furniture, costly mirrors and chandeliers, soft carpets, tapestries, and gold-embroidered curtains, exquisite paintings and statuary, which the possessor had forwarded from Italy, and many other objects of art standing upon gilt and marble tables.

Every thing was completed. The bustle of the busy workmen had ceased, and Trude slowly wandered through the solitary rooms, examining every article. Her face bespoke dissatisfaction, and a smile of contempt was visible there.

"Miserable trash, for which they have sold my poor child!" murmured the old woman. "For these worthless, glittering toys have they ruined the happiness of the dear innocent heart, and on them the guilt will fall if her soul is lost! I remark how she is changed in her letters since her shameful, mercenary marriage. She writes of nothing but the arrangement of her house, and speaks as if the beauty and costliness of things were only to be thought of, and there is not even a confidential, heart-felt word for her old Trude. It would seem as if she had forgotten all former objects of interest. Oh, what trouble and sorrows the rich have! That good-for-nothing money hardens their hearts and makes them evil and selfish."

The loud ringing of a bell sounded through the solitary drawing-rooms.

"That is, undoubtedly, the general's wife," said Trude, shaking her head. "She rings as if she would announce the king, with her nose turned up so high, or as if she were the money-sacks of her son-in-law!"

Trude was right; her shrill voice was heard ordering the steward, who had but just arrived. "It is abominable, it is unheard of!" she cried, as with a heavy push she burst open the door; "this man presumes to contradict me, and-ah, there you are, Trude!"

"Here I am," she answered; "were you looking for me?"

"Yes, and I would ask you if my orders are not the same as if given by Herr Ebenstreit von Leuthen or his wife, or have you instructed the new steward otherwise, which, it is laughable to say, you have engaged?"

"No, I have not instructed him thus. Dear Marie has not ordered it in her letter."

"Dear Marie," repeated Frau von Werrig. "How can you permit yourself to speak so intimately of the rich Baroness von Ebenstreit?"

"Very true, it is not right," sighed Trude; "I beg pardon."

"I came here to see if every thing was in readiness, and ordered the steward to ornament the doors and corridors with garlands of flowers; he has had the boldness to tell me he dares not do it!"

"He is right, Frau von Leuthen. Baroness Ebenstreit von Leuthen (have I got the title right?) wrote and expressly forbade any festivity to greet her arrival. Here is the letter-I carry it around with me; I will read it to you: 'I expressly forbid any manifestation whatever to be made at our return, whether of garlands or flowers, as they are only hypocrisy and falsehood. I wish no one there to receive me-remember, Trude, no one! Inform my family that, as soon as I have recovered from the fatigue of the journey, I will make them the visit of duty with the baron.'"

"What cold, heartless words are these! One could hardly believe that a daughter was writing of her parents."

"On her wedding-day she perhaps forgot that she had any," said Trude, shrugging her shoulders, "and she should not be at once reminded of that trying occasion on her return. I expect her every moment, as the courier has already arrived an hour ago, and it would be better-"

"You cannot be so impudent as to tell me to leave? Indeed, I will not be prevented from waiting to receive my only child that I have not seen for three years. One can well believe that a mother would be impatient to embrace her dear daughter! I have no other happiness but my beloved child, and I long, unspeakably, to press her to my heart and tell her my sorrow."

"Sorrow! is it possible that Frau von Werrig has any griefs? I supposed there was nothing in the world troubled her."

"And yet I am very much tormented. I can well tell you, Trude, as you are familiar with our circumstances," sighed the countess. "You know the general is tolerably well; the journeys to Wiesbaden and Teplitz have cured him of the gout unfortunately, so that he can go about."

"Are you sorry for that, Frau von Werrig?"

"Certainly I am, Trude, as he has returned to his former habits, frequenting the society of drinking-houses and gamblers. Imagine the general played yesterday, lost all his ready money, and that was not enough, but signed away the year's pension from Herr von Ebenstreit, during which time we have nothing but the miserable army annuity to live upon."

"Then your income will be less to live upon than formerly, for dear Marie earned something with her flowers and lessons which she gave to you, although she was never thanked for it. She was then my dear good Marie, so industrious and patient, and worked untiringly for her parents! Then she forgot them not, and toiled early and late, and, oh, it breaks my heart to think of it, and I must cry in your presence!"

She raised the corner of her dark-blue apron and dried her eyes, holding it there as she continued to weep.

"What an ugly apron!" cried the countess, "and how meanly you are dressed altogether! Is that the way you intend to go looking as the housekeeper of a rich and genteel family? Go, Trude, quickly, and put something better on, that you may receive your master and mistress in a suitable dress."

"I shall remain as I am, for I am very properly dressed. It may not be suitable for a housekeeper, but it becomes old Trude, and it is my Sunday frock, which I always wore when I was maid-of-all-work to you. You may not remember it, but dear Marie (I should say Baroness von Ebenstreit) will, perhaps, and it may recall her little room in the garret, and then-"

"And then she will at last think, Trude, how we took care of her, and how thankful she ought to be to her parents that they married her to a rich man. If Marie sees it at last-"

"You forget with whom you speak, Frau von Werrig," Trude interrupted her, scornfully, "and that it does not become you to speak of Marie to old Trude, but you should remember her title."

"Well, then, when Baroness von Ebenstreit enters this costly house, she must understand that her mother was mindful of her best interests, and that she owes all this to her; and you, Trude, must remind her of it, and tell her about my dreadful trial with her father, and that it is my daughter's duty to release me from it, and beg her husband not to deduct the gambling-debt from the pension, but pay it this once. For it would be a dreadful injustice to make me suffer for the general's rage for play, and show but little gratitude for the riches which I brought her. You will tell my daughter all this, Trude, and-"

"I will not tell her any thing at all, Frau von Werrig," interrupted. Trude, warmly. "May my good genius keep me from that, and burdening my conscience with such falsehoods.-Hark! A carriage is coming, and a post-horn sounded. They have arrived!"

Old Trude hurried out just as they drove up to the door. The steward and two servants in livery rushed down the steps to assist them to alight, and Trude also to greet her favorite, who was now so pale, grave, and chilling in her appearance.

The large eyes of the lady rested with cold indifference upon the old woman, whose eyes were turned to her with the tenderest expression. "I thank you," she said, coldly. "Husband! I beg you to give me your arm." Proudly she passed the statuary, and over the soft carpets without comment, or even a word for old Trude.

The steward and housekeeper followed the silent couple.

"Shall I take you to your room first?" asked Ebenstreit, "or will you do me the pleasure to look at the newly-arranged drawing-rooms?"

"Certainly," she replied, with indifference. "We will first look at the drawing-rooms, as we shall probably receive much company this winter, and they are of the first importance. You know that I dislike solitude."

"Indeed, I recall that we are very seldom alone!" sighed her husband.

"It would be fearful if we were," replied his wife, with marked indifference.

The steward just now opened the little door of the ante-room, sparkling with chandeliers and mirrors. "Ah! this is really beautiful, and well chosen," cried Ebenstreit, looking about with an air of great pride and satisfaction. "Tell me, Marie, is it not worthy of you?"

Glancing coldly around, she replied: "It does not please at all. The furniture is very costly, and reminds one of the parvenu. Every thing recalls the riches of the newly-titled banker."

Her husband's brow contracted, but he did not trust himself to contest his dissatisfaction with his cold, proud wife, but sought another vent for it.

"You are very unkind, Marie. Have the goodness to tell me how you, with these severe ideas, can suffer that Trude for a moment should appear before us in this poor-looking dress which, indeed, does not recall any wealth!"

Frau von Ebenstreit's eyes glanced quickly over the old who, she said, was the only object which did not bespeak the gaudiness of newly-acquired wealth, but she appeared as the respectable servant of an old and noble family in fitting dress. "Remain as you are, Trude, and do not let yourself be misled by our follies! I-but what is that I see?" she cried as the steward opened the next door at the silent nod of her husband.

"Oh, my beloved children, there you are at last; after three years' absence I have the happiness to embrace you, my only daughter," cried Frau von Werrig, as she approached them with outstretched arms and an affectionate smile, essaying to throw her arms around Marie's neck, who waved her back.

"My child, my child," whimpered the mother, "is it possible that my daughter can receive me thus after so long a separation?"

Turning to Trude, Marie asked her, with a reproving look and tone, if she had received her letter, or if she had forgotten her express commands that no one but the servants should be in the house to receive them.

"I did not forget it, my lady, and I have read the orders to Frau von Werrig, but she-"

"Knew that this wish had no reference to her, as she is her mother-Tell me, my beloved son, is it not very natural and fitting that I should be here to receive you?'

"I find it a matter of course," answered Von Ebenstreit, to whom it appeared a relief to find an ally in the mother against his proud and beautiful wife. "I rejoice to see our dear mother here, and I beg Marie will join me."

Marie cast an angry glance toward her husband, which so confused and perplexed him, that he looked down. Then advancing toward the drawing-room, with her usual cold demeanor, without further comment upon the ostentatious furniture, she commanded her husband to follow, who obeyed, giving his arm to his mother-in-law.

"Oh, this is glorious!" he cried, smiling. "What splendor, what luxury! Tell me, my dear mother, is not this beautiful reception-room very aristocratically and appropriately fitted up?"

"I should think a princess or a queen might be satisfied with it," she cried, with enthusiasm. "Even in royal palaces there is nothing of the kind to compare to this gold-embroidered tapestry."

"Baron," said Marie, commandingly, "have the kindness to dismiss the steward. I wish to speak with you and Frau von Werrig."

The steward slipped o

ut without waiting to be sent, and Trude stood near the door, turning to the young baroness, as if to ask if she might remain.

"Did you not hear, Trude?" cried the mother, impatiently. "Tell her to go!"

"Remain, Trude," said Marie, quietly. "You are familiar with the past. I have nothing to deny to you; shut the door and stay here.-And now," she continued, as her voice lost its gentleness, when she addressed her mother, "if it is agreeable to you, I should like to have an understanding with you!"

"But, my child," sighed the mother, "how strangely altered you are! You address me, your mother, as Frau von Werrig, and you speak to Ebenstreit in a very formal manner, who has been your dear, faithful husband for three years. Oh, my darling son, what does this ceremonious manner mean?"

"The very first hour, after our marriage, that we were alone my dear Marie severely reproved me for having addressed her in an intimate, affectionate manner, like the common class, as she called it, and I have never done so since."

"You must be convinced that I am right," said Marie, calmly, "and that it does not become two beings, who neither love nor esteem each other, and who live in the most ceremonious manner, to address one another with endearing epithets. At any rate we are not accountable to any one, and Frau von Leuthen must know the relations we bear to each other in the so-called marriage, as it is her arrangement for the most part."

"And I pride myself upon it," she cried, with animation. "I have brought about this marriage, which is good fortune to us, and I hope my daughter will prove her gratitude, and my son will show me the affection he has so often sworn to me."

"I do not know what my husband may have sworn to you, but permit me to say, I do not understand whom you, Frau von Werrig, address as daughter here; if you accidentally refer to me, you are in error; I have never possessed a mother to love me, although formerly, during long years I endeavored with tender assiduity to win a parent's heart. That is long past, however. The very day that I married Herr von Ebenstreit I renounced all family ties, and resolved to be self-reliant. My husband will witness that he has never known me to yield, and that I have always been firm and resolute in my decision."

"No one would doubt it," replied Ebenstreit, timidly. "We had a very strange marriage, which scarce deserves the name. We resemble more two companions who have joined in business, the one side reluctantly, and the other joyfully. I long for a happy married life, which has been quite impossible thus far."

"And will be to the end, which you will yet learn; and Fran von Werrig should understand it, as she brought about the union, and should not be in doubt as to the conclusion."

"I acknowledge that I am almost speechless and quite paralyzed with that which I see and hear. I should doubt that this cold, proud woman before me were my daughter, if it were not for the name she bears, and her features."

"That which you and my husband have caused me to become. He knew that I neither loved nor esteemed him, and that a union with him seemed so unendurable that I would have sought refuge in death, if I had not vowed to support life to attain the aim which I imposed upon myself. That is all past; it is the future which we must arrange. I am glad that you are here, Frau von Werrig, that we may understand each other once for all; but you came against my wishes."

"You must excuse it, dear Marie. It was the longing of mother's heart which led me hither; the love-"

A cold, contemptuous glance of the large eyes caused the mother to cease, and quail before her daughter.

After a short pause Marie continued: "I wish to exercise alone and unhindered the executive rights of a lady in her own house. Do you acknowledge the justice of this, my husband?"

"Perfectly and unconditionally, dear Marie. You know that I have no other will but yours, which is my highest happiness to submit myself to in all things, always hoping to gain your love and win your heart; that-"

"That this woman has changed to stone," said Marie, coldly, pointing to her mother. "As you then recognize me as the mistress of this house, I shall avail myself of my just right, and no one can prevent me, for I stand alone, absolved from all family ties. By my birth and your riches, I shall occupy the position of a woman of the world, and as such I shall live."

"I am delighted to hear it, Marie," cried her husband. "For this reason I have had the drawing-rooms furnished in the most costly manner, and I shall be proud to receive the aristocratic society who will come to render homage to my wife, as they have done everywhere in Paris, London, Rome, Madrid, and St. Petersburg. We have frequented the highest circle in all these cities, and they have crowded our drawing-rooms, charmed with the beauty, distinguished manners, tone of the world, of your daughter."

"I beg of you to make but one subject the sole object of conversation," said Marie, harshly. "I have said that I will avail myself of the privilege, as mistress of this house, of receiving no one whom I do not wish to see, and no one can enter without consent. Is it clearly understood, husband?"

"Yes," he answered, somewhat agitated; "it is the right of every housekeeper-I understand you."

"It is also clear to me," cried Frau von Werrig, with difficulty suppressing her wrath. "But I will await the decisive word, and see whether it is possible for a daughter to have the insolent presumption to drive he mother from her house!"

"I have already informed you that I have no mother, and that no one has the right to call me daughter. If you await my decision, you shall now hear it; you are not included among those that I wish to receive in my house!"

"Ah, dear Marie, you are cruel!" cried her husband, quite frightened.

"She is a degenerate, good-for-nothing creature!" cried the mother.

"If I am so, who has caused it but you, both of you? Who broke my heart, and crushed it under foot until it ceased to feel, and turned to stone? Bear the consequences of your cruelty and heartlessness! I cannot change it, and I repeat, Frau von Werrig has not the right to enter this house, or to remain here any longer!"

Scalding tears fell from the mother's eyes as she shrieked, "She drives me from her house!"

"I am only treating you as you behaved to one of the noblest and best of men," replied Marie, voice and look betraying her deep feeling. "You thrust from your door, with scorn and contempt, a man worthy of your esteem and recognition, although you knew that my heart was breaking. I am only following your example and exercising my just rights, and am less guilty than you are, as neither of us has need of the respect or esteem of the other."

"Can you suffer this, my son? Do you allow any one in your presence to treat me so shamefully? After all, it is your house; do speak and exercise your right as master here: tell your wife that I am her mother, and you, my adopted son, who bears my name, and that I have the just right to come here as often as it pleases me."

"Speak your mind to Frau von Werrig," said Marie, as Ebenstreit remained silent. "Decide which shall remain, as one or the other of us must leave; you are perfectly free to choose."

"Then, naturally, there is no choice left me," replied Ebenstreit, despondingly. "I declare myself for my wife, of course, who is the noblest and proudest beauty in Berlin, and will make my house the centre of attraction to the aristocracy, nobility, and wealth. This is my greatest pride, and to secure this I wooed my beautiful bride, and have submitted to all the sorrow and humiliation which have been my portion. If I must choose between the mother and daughter, I naturally prefer the latter."

"He abandons me also!" cried the mother. "You are an ungrateful, wretched man! You forget that you owe every thing to me, and that without me you were a miserable mercenary, whose stupidity and tediousness were the ridicule of every one, and you had never gained the entrance to a genteel house. What have you now become? A high-born man, whose house every one will crowd, and who could even appear at court, as he bears our noble and distinguished name. To whom do you owe all this, but to me alone?"

"God in heaven, Thou hearest it!" cried Marie, solemnly, with uplifted arms. "She acknowledges that she alone has brought this misfortune upon me, and in this hour I stand justified."

"Pardon, Frau von Werrig," said Ebenstreit, haughtily; "you are going too far. After my fortune, I thank you for my position. I am certainly of insignificant birth, but I am ambitious and rich. I said to myself, 'Money can bring about all that I wish,' and you see it has accomplished it. My wealth procured me a title, a splendid house, a beautiful wife, and a position in society. I acknowledge that you aided me in the carrying out of my plans, but you would not have done it, if I had not been in a position to pay you. You receive a very considerable annuity from me, therefore you cannot accuse me of ingratitude, but must confess that you have driven a very good bargain. You must forgive me if I beg of you to end this painful scene."

"That means that I must leave," said Frau von Werrig, mildly, remembering the gambling debt and the annuity. "Very well, I will go, and promise you never to return, upon two conditions."

"Have the goodness to communicate them," said Ebenstreit.

"The first is, pay the gambling-debt of my husband, who has played away the entire sum you allow us yearly, and do not deduct it from our income. The second is, increase your allowance five hundred thalers, without letting the general know it, and pay it to me."

"It is impossible," cried Ebenstreit, terrified. "You mistake me for a Croesus, whose wealth is inexhaustible. If this expenditure and demand increase, my colossal fortune will be entirely wasted, and-"

"You exaggerate," interrupted Marie, with a peculiar brilliancy in her eyes. "Such wealth as yours is never-ending, and the banking business, which you are still engaged in under another name, is an inexhaustible source of wealth. I beg you to accept these conditions, that we may at last be at peace."

"Very well," said Ebenstreit, to whom the words of Marie sounded as the sweetest music. "I will then accord your wishes, and you shall have the five hundred thalers for yourself."

"For me alone?"

"Yes, for yourself alone, Frau von Werrig."

"Who vouches for the fulfilment of your promise?"

"My word, Frau von Werrig."

"I have no confidence but in a written promise."

"Then I will have it made out, and bring you the document to-morrow morning."

"Then our business is finished, and I can go.-Farewell, baroness; this is my last word to you. I cursed you from the moment you came into being. If you had been a son, the rich estate in trust of my family would have passed to you, of which I was the natural heir. As it was, it went to a distant relative, and we received nothing. Therefore your parents could not rejoice at your birth, and we only pardoned you when you married a rich man, who could free us from want, and now the separation is no grief to us. You have always been a disagreeable burden, and I am only quit of a discomfort, and renounce forever the sight of you.-Give me your arm, my son, and accompany me at least to the threshold of your house, that you may be able to say to this cold-hearted viper, that she is forever rid of the sight of her mother, who will never think of her but with chilling contempt." She seized Ebenstreit by the arm, who had not the courage to resist her, and drew him along with her, casting a look of supreme disgust at old Trude, who stood pale and sad near the door.

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