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   Chapter 34 BEHIND THE MASK.

Old Fritz and the New Era By L. Muhlbach Characters: 12894

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:02


As the door closed, and Marie found herself alone with her old friend and nurse, a peculiar change was visible in her sad face; something of its former sunny radiance brightened its usually sorrowful expression, and she turned to greet Trude with the smile of earlier, happier days, though it was tinged with sadness and grief. Impulsively she threw her arms around her faithful nurse, kissing her, and, with quivering lip, whispering: "A greeting and a blessing for you, dear mother! Take me to your kind, disinterested heart, and let me there find repose from all this torture and love the poor lost one, who-"

She drew suddenly back, her face assuming its usually cold, look as she heard her husband enter.

"She is gone, dear Marie. I hope that you are gratified with my decision, and perceive therein a proof of my excessive love and esteem for you," said Ebenstreit, drawing a long breath.

"I did not desire this polite evidence of it," she coldly responded. "We have solemnized our entrance into this house in a fitting manner, and the important matter remaining for us is to make known our arrival to the society of Berlin. The horses purchased in Alexandria, and the new carriage from London, have already arrived-have they not?"

"My book-keeper so informed me a fortnight since, when we were in Paris, and complained of the enormous sum which he had to disburse."

"You must forbid him such a liberty once for all," said she, and the strange blending of joy and scorn was visible in her face. "It is inadmissible for a subordinate to presume to complain to his master, or advise him. He has only to listen and obey. This all your inferiors must understand, and know that they will be dismissed who murmur or advise!"

"I will instruct them accordingly," he sighed, "though I must confess my head-man well understands financial operations, and during the many years that he has been with me has won the right to be consulted and advised with."

"Then prove your gratitude as it becomes a true cavalier and a nobleman," dictated Marie. "Settle his salary as an annuity upon him, and replace him."

"But he receives very great wages, and is still very active, though advanced."

"The more the reason to pension him, that he may repose his remaining years and enjoy the fruit of his labors. But do as you like. I have only told you how a noble cavalier would act; if you choose to bargain and haggle, it is your own affair."

"Heaven keep me from acting otherwise than as a nobleman!" cried Ebenstreit.

Marie nodded assent, desiring that the carriage might be ordered, with the Arab horses. "We will make our visits at once, as I will, for the first time, open our large house for a soiree to-morrow evening," she added.

"Ah, that is charming!" said Ebenstreit, delighted. "I shall at last have the opportunity of seeing the aristocratic Berlin society, and enter upon the rank of my new title."

"Yes," she replied, with an expression of irrepressible scorn, "you will have this enjoyment. Send me the steward, I wish to give him a list of the invited guests. You can add to it at your pleasure."

"I have no one to invite," cried her husband.

"No matter! Make the necessary preparations. I will go to my room to make my toilet."

"Will you not allow me to accompany you? You are not yet familiar with the house."

"Trude will show it to me, and you can at the same time give the orders."

Nodding proudly to Ebenstreit, she told Trude to precede her, following the old woman through the suite of brilliant rooms.

"Here is my lady's dressing-room," said Trude, entering one ornamented with mirrors, laces, and gauzes.

The French waiting-maid was busy within, unpacking the large trunks filled with silk and satin dresses which had been purchased by the dozens in Paris.

"Lay out an elegant visiting toilet; I will return directly, after Trude has shown me the house," They entered the adjoining chamber, Marie's sleeping-room and found the German maid arranging the lace and silk coverings for her mistress to repose herself after the long journey. Marie betrayed no inclination for repose, but questioned Trude as to whither the other door led to.

"Into the little corridor, baroness."

"Did I not order that there should be but one entrance to my sleeping-room, and that from the dressing-room?"

"Your commands have been strictly obeyed," replied Trude. "The only door from the corridor leads to my two rooms, and there is but one entrance to them upon the other side, which can be securely fastened."

Into the simple, quiet room, at the baroness's request, Trude opened the door, saying, "Here we can be alone."

Marie pointed silently to the second door, and the old woman nodded: "That is it," said she. "I have done every thing as you directed. After you left, they sent me the furniture of your little garret-room, which I have arranged exactly as it stood there."

As Marie opened the door and found herself in the small room, so like the one where she had made flowers, given lessons, consoled by her only friend, Trude, her pride and reserve vanished. Sinking upon her knees, as if crushed, she gave way to her long-pent-up grief in one cry of anguish, clinging to Trude, and weeping bitterly.

"Here I am, my faithful nurse, returned to you more wretched and miserable than when I left: then, I felt that I could scorn the world, and now I despise myself. Oh, Trude, they have caused my wretchedness, they have made me selfish and unkind. I was contented until now, and rejoiced in my misery, and triumphantly thought of the time when I was wont to bewail my broken heart and lost soul. Once more with you, and surrounded with the souvenirs of my girlhood, I feel a horror of myself, and could sink in shame and contrition. I have become as bad as they are. Can you forgive the hard-hearted daughter who banished her own mother from her house? I felt that I could not endure her presence, and feared that an inveterate rancor and hate would overpower me, and that I should curse her."

"She deserves it, my poor child," whispered Trude, the tears streaming down her cheeks. "She has just told you that she never loved you, and in this painful scene she thought only of bargaining and making money. God has heard her and forgiven you as I do, and I beg and implore Him to punish those who have made you so wretched, and that He will have no mercy upon them, as

they have shown none to you. It breaks my heart to see you so changed, and I can hardly believe this cold, haughty lady is my Marie. In your tears I recognize you, and I bless God that you can weep; your grief proves to me that you are yet the child of my heart."

"Oh Trude, you know not how I have longed to see you; it was my only consolation in these painful years. When I doubted every human being, then I thought of you, and was comforted and sustained."

"And was there no one else to think of, my child?"

"Yes," she gently murmured, "I thought of him. Tell me all you know about him, and hide nothing from me in this hour."

"I thought you would ask me, and I went to Director Gedicke yesterday, to inform myself."

"What did you hear? Tell me the most important. Does he live? Is he restored to health?"

"He lives, but, for one year, he was so wretched that he could not teach; now he is better. Herr Gedicke went himself to Spandau, immediately after the wedding, and brought him back with him, relating as forbearingly and carefully as possible the circumstances of your marriage, and of your sacrificing yourself for him alone."

"How did he receive it? What did he say?"

"Nothing. His eyes were fixed, and his lips uttered not a sound. This lasted for weeks, and suddenly he became excited, enraged, and they were obliged to bind him to keep him from injuring himself."

"Tell me no more," cried Marie, shuddering. "I thought myself stronger, nay, heartless, and yet it seems as if a hand of iron were tearing, rending my soul!"

"That is well," said Trude, gently; "you must awaken from this hardened indifference; giving way to your grief in tears will soften your heart, and it will again be penetrated with the love of God and mankind. I will tell you every thing; you ought to know how poor, dear Moritz suffered. After he vented his rage he became melancholy, and withdrew to Halle in solitude, living in a hay-loft. His favorite books and an old piano were his only companions; no one presumed to intrude him, and they even conveyed his food secretly to him, shoving it through a door. He talked aloud to himself for hours long, and at night sang so touchingly, accompanying himself upon the piano, that those who listened wept."

Marie wept also-scalding tears trickled through her fingers as she lay upon the floor.

Trude continued: "Moritz lived in this way one year; his friends knew how he was suffering, and they proved in their deeds how much they loved and esteemed him. The teachers at the Gymnasium divided his hours of instruction among them, that he should not forfeit his place and lose his salary. Even the king showed great sympathy for him, sending to inquire for him. Herr Gedicke visited him frequently at Halle; and once when about to mount the ladder to the hay-loft he met Moritz descending, carefully dressed, in a reasonable, gentle mood, and then he returned with him to Berlin. There was great rejoicing in the college over his return, and they feted him, witnessing so much love for him that it was really touching. He has been promoted to professor, and at the express command of the king he teaches the young Prince Frederick William in Latin and Greek. Oh, he is so much esteemed and-"

"And is married I hope," murmured Marie. "Is he not happily married, Trude?"

"No. Herr Gedicke says he could marry a wealthy girl, for he is a great favorite, and is invited into the most distinguished society. He repels every one, and has become a woman-hater."

"He hates them-does that mean that he hates me?"

"Yes, he thoroughly scorns and despises you; so much so that Herr Gedicke says you should know of it, and keep out of his way. He has sworn to publicly show his contempt for you, and therefore his friends wish you to be apprised of it, and not encounter him in society."

"It is well, I thank you," said Marie, rising; "I will act accordingly. Kiss me once more, my dear mother, and let me repose my weary head upon your bosom. Ah, Trude, what a sorrow life is!"

"You will yet learn to love it again, Marie."

"If I thought that I could sink so low, I would kill myself this very hour. I know myself better, and only for revenge do I live. Hush! say nothing more. Look at me! I am cursed, and there in those gaudy rooms in my purgatory; here is my paradise, and here the wicked demon may dare to change into the sad, wretched wife, who mourns the happy days already flown, and weeps the inconsolable future. Oft will I come here in the night when those sleep who think me so proud and happy, and you alone shall behold me as I am. Now I must back to purgatory.-Farewell!"

A half hour later a splendid carriage drove from the house of Herr Ebenstreit von Leuthen. The people upon the street stood in wondering admiration of the beautiful Arab horses with the costly silver-mounted harness, and sought to catch a glimpse of the occupants of the carriage, an insignificant, meagre, blond-haired man, who appeared like a servant beside the lovely pale wife, though proud and indifferent, who kept her eyes fixed steadily before her.

The chasseur, with his waving plumes, sat upon the box beside the rich-liveried coachman.

As the married couple returned from their drive, having left their cards at the most distinguished houses in Berlin, the baroness handed the list of guests to be invited to the baron to examine. He glanced hastily over it, assuring her that every thing should be directed as she desired, deferring all to her superior knowledge. Suddenly he seemed confused, even frightened. "What is the matter? What were you about to remark?" asked Marie, indifferently.

"I was in error. I have, without doubt, read it wrong. I beg pardon for a foolish blunder, but will you tell me this name?"

Marie bent forward to look at the paper which her husband handed her, and, pointing with her finger, read "Professor Philip Moritz."

"Do you intend to invite him?" asked Ebenstreit, quite alarmed.

"Why should I not? He belongs to the circle of friends and acquaintances, and it is natural that I should include him. Moreover, there is not a little gossip, and it is necessary to silence it. If you are not of my opinion, strike out the name."

"Not at all, dearest. On the contrary, you are perfectly right, and I admire you for it."

"Then give the list to the butler, for it is quite time that the invitations were given out."

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