MoboReader > Literature > Old Fritz and the New Era

   Chapter 38 REVENGE FULFILLED.

Old Fritz and the New Era By L. Muhlbach Characters: 37888

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:02


Since the soiree at the house of the rich banker, Ebenstreit, an entire winter had passed in pleasures and fetes. The position of Baron Ebenstreit von Leuthen had been recognized in aristocratic society, thanks to his dinners, soirees, balls, fetes, and particularly to his lovely, spirited, and proud wife. Herr Ebenstreit von Leuthen had reached the acme of his ambition; his house was the resort of the most distinguished society; the extravagance and superb arrangements of his dinners and fetes were the theme of every tongue. This excessive admiration flattered the vain, ambitious parvenu extremely, and it was the happiest day of his life when Prince Henry of Prussia, brother of Frederick the Great, did him the unspeakable honor to dine with him. This gratifying day he owed to his wife, and, as he said, it ought to be kept as the greatest triumph of money over prejudice and etiquette-the day upon which a royal prince recognized the rich and newly-created noble as his equal. Ebenstreit's entrance into the highest circle of aristocracy was due to the management and tone of the world of his wife, who understood the elegancies of life, passing as an example and ideal of an elegant woman, of which her husband was very proud. He lauded his original and crafty idea of devoting his money to such a satisfactory purchase as a sensible and ladylike wife, although the union was not a happy one, and, in the proper acceptation of the word, no marriage at all.

Whilst all were entertained at the fetes, and envied the splendor and wealth of Baron von Ebenstreit, there were many sinister remarks as to the possibility of sustaining this expenditure upon such a grand scale. It was whispered about that the banking-house, conducted under another name, had lost in extensive speculations, and that the baron lived upon his principal instead of his interest. The business community declared that the firm entered into the most daring and senseless undertakings, and that it must go to ruin. The old book-keeper, Splittgerber, who had for many years conducted the business, had been pensioned by the baron, and commenced for himself. His successor had once ventured to warn the nobleman, and represent to him the danger which threatened him, for which he was immediately dismissed, and the fact communicated to the entire house, at a special assemblage of the clerks for the purpose, with the warning of a like fate for every subordinate who should presume to criticise the acts of the principals, or proffer advice to them. Since this no one had ventured to repeat the offence, but every member of the house occupied himself in drawing a profit from the general and daily increasing confusion, and save something from the wreck which would inevitably ensue. The baron, with pretentious unconcern, dazzled by his unusual honors, permitted his business affairs to take their course with smiling unconcern, and when unsuccessful, to hide the mistakes of the banker under the pomp of the baron.

Marie, indulging in the style of a great lady, appeared not to notice or trouble herself at all about these things. She entertained most luxuriantly, and spent enormous sums upon her toilet, changed the costly livery of her numerous retinue of servants every month, as well as the furniture of the drawing-rooms; and presented with generous liberality her superfluous ornaments, dresses, and furniture to her dear high-born friends, who greedily accepted them, and were overflowing in their tender protestations and gratitude, whilst they in secret revolted at the presumption of the arrogant woman, who permitted herself to send them her cast-off things.

They rejoiced to receive them, however, and reappeared in her splendid drawing-rooms, enduring the pride and neglect of the baroness, and calling her their dear friend, whom they in secret envied and hated.

Did Marie know this, or did she let herself be deceived by these friendly protestations? Occasionally, when her friends embraced and kissed her, a languid smile flitted over her haughty face; and once as she wandered through the suite of rooms, awaiting her guests, she caught the reflection of a beautiful woman in the costly Venetian mirrors, sparkling with diamonds and wearing a silver-embroidered dress with a train. She gazed at this woman with an expression of ineffable scorn, and whispered to her: "Suffer yet awhile, you shall soon be released. This miserable trash will disappear. Only be firm-I hear already the cracking of the house which will soon fall a wreck at your feet!"

Others heard it also. As preparations were being made for a grand dinner, with which the Baron and Baroness von Ebenstreit would close the season, the former head bookkeeper of the baron appeared at the palace, demanding, with anxious mien, to see the principal.

Just at the moment the baron and his wife were in the large reception-room, which the decorator was splendidly arranging, under the direction of the baroness, with flowers, festoons, columns, and statues. Ebenstreit was watching admiringly the tasteful and costly display as the footman announced the former book-keeper and present banker, Splittgerber.

"He must come at another time," cried Ebenstreit, impatiently, "I am busy now; I-"

"Excuse me, baron," replied an earnest, gentle voice behind him, "that I have followed the lackey and entered unbidden. I come on urgent business, and I must indeed speak with you instantly!"

"Be brief then, at least," cried Ebenstreit, peevishly. "You see that my wife is here, and we are very busy arranging for a grand dinner to-day."

Herr Splittgerber, instead of replying, cast a peculiarly sad, searching glance through the beautifully-adorned room, and at the two lackeys, who stood on each side of the wide folding-doors.

"Permit that these servants withdraw, and order them to close the doors," said the book-keeper, almost commandingly. Ebenstreit, overruled by the solemn earnestness, obeyed against his will.

"Would you like me to leave also, sir?" said Marie, with a calm, haughty manner. "You have only to ask it and the baron will, undoubtedly, accord your request."

"On the contrary, I beg you to remain," quietly replied Splittgerber, "for what I have to say concerns you and your husband equally."

"Now, then, I beg you to say it quickly," cried Ebenstreit, impatiently; "I repeat, that we are very busy with preparing for to-day's festival."

"You will not give any fete to-day," said Splittgerber, solemnly.

Ebenstreit, cringing and frightened, gazed at the old man who looked sadly at him.

The baroness laughed aloud, sneeringly. "My dear sir, your tone and manner remind me of the wicked spirit at the horrible moment in the story when he comes to demand the bartered soul, and the enchanted castle falls a wreck!"

"Your comparison is an apt one, baroness," sighed the old man.-"I came to you, baron, because I loved your father. I have served your house thirty years, and amassed the little I had to commence business with in your service. Moreover, when you so suddenly dismissed me, you not only gave me my salary as a pension, but you funded the annuity with a considerable sum, which makes me, through your house, independent in means."

"You may thank my wife for that. She demanded, when I dismissed you, that I should compensate you with the liberality of a true nobleman."

"Oh, would that you had not done it, baroness!" cried Splittgerber-"would that you had permitted the old faithful pioneer in the business to remain by your husband! He might have warded off this misfortune and saved you by his experience and advice."

"For this very reason I demanded your removal. You permitted yourself to proffer advice which I felt did not become you," replied Marie, with a strange smile of triumph.

"And, I repeat, would that you had not done it!" sighed the old man. "I came to warn you, to conjure you, to save yourselves-to flee while there is yet time."

"Oh, mercy! what has happened?" cried Ebenstreit, terrified.

"The banking-house of Ebenstreit, founded under the name of Ludwig, associated with Ehlert of Amsterdam, four months since, to buy and load ships for the Calcutta market. Herr Ebenstreit gathered together the last wrecks of his fortune remaining from his ruinous speculations, to win enormously in this investment. Besides, he indorsed the notes of the Amsterdam house for the sum of eighty thousand dollars, which has been drawn, so that their notes are protested there. Herr Ebenstreit will have to pay this sum!"

"What else?" asked Ebenstreit, almost breathless.

"The house of Ehlert, in Amsterdam, has failed; the principal has fled with the coffers; the notes for eighty thousand dollars were protested, and you, baron, must pay this sum to-day, or declare yourself a bankrupt, and go to prison for debt."

Instantaneously a suppressed cry and a laugh were heard. Ebenstreit sank upon a seat, concealing his pallid face with his hands, while Marie stood at his side, her face beaming with joy.

"I am lost, I do not possess the eighth part of that sum! I cannot pay it. I must submit, for there are no further means to prevent it."

"No," replied Marie, with haughty tranquillity, "you have no further means to prevent it. The rich banker Ebenstreit will leave this house, no longer his own, to enter the debtor's prison poor as a beggar-nay, worse, a defrauder!"

"Oh, how cruel you are!" groaned Ebenstreit.

"Did you say, baroness, that this house is no longer his?" asked Splittgerber, alarmed.

"No," she triumphantly cried. "It belongs to me, and all that is in it-the pictures, statues, silver, diamonds, and pearls. Oh, I am still a rich woman!"

"And do you mean to retain this wealth if your husband becomes bankrupt? Do you not possess a common interest?" asked Splittgerber.

"No, thank Heaven, the community of interest was given up a year since," cried Ebenstreit, joyfully. "Baroness von Ebenstreit is the lawful possessor of this house and furniture. I was not so indiscreet as you supposed. I have at least secured this to my wife, and she will be a rich woman even if I fail, and will not let me starve. I shall divide about ten per cent with my creditors, but my wife will be rich enough for us both."

"This gives me to understand that you intend to make a fraudulent bankruptcy. You have settled every thing upon your wife to save yourself from the unhappy consequences of your failure. You will still be a rich man if your wife should sell her house, works of art, diamonds, gold and silver service, and equipages."

"Yes, indeed, a very rich man," said Marie. "In the last few weeks I have had my property estimated, and it would at least bring three hundred thousand dollars."

"If the baron only possessed this, he could pay his creditors, and have a small amount over, sufficient to live upon economically and genteelly. But you would rather enjoy splendor, and are not particular about living honorably. You will undoubtedly sell your property, and go to Paris, to revel in luxury and pleasure, while your defrauded creditors may, through you come to poverty and want.-Baron, I now see that your wife did well to bring about my removal. I should have, above all things, given you the unwelcome advice to sustain your honor unblemished, and dispose of your costly surroundings for the benefit of your creditors, that when you die it may be with a clear conscience. You prefer a life of luxury and ease, rocking your conscience to sleep until God will rouse it to a fearful awaking. But do as you like. I came here to offer you assistance, thinking that you would dispose of this property, and after paying your creditors have sufficient to live upon. Then I could be permitted to prove my fidelity to you. I now see that I was a fool. Yet in parting I will still beg of you to avoid the unfavorable impression of this dinner. The bill of exchange will be presented at four o'clock, and the bearer will not be satisfied with the excuse of your non-payment on account of dinner-company. You will be obliged to settle at once or be arrested. I have learned this from your chief creditor, and I begged him to have forbearance for you. I shall now justify him in showing you none, as you do not deserve it!-Farewell!"

The old book-keeper turned with a slight nod, and strode away through the drawing-room.

"Have you nothing to say to him? Will you let him go thus?" asked Marie, impetuously.

"Nothing at all. What should I say?" he replied, shrugging his shoulders.

"Then I will speak with him." Marie called loudly after Splittgerber, saying, "I have a word to speak to you."

The book-keeper remained standing near the door, and turning with downcast face, demanded of Marie what she wished.

"I have something to tell you," she replied, with her usual tranquil, proud demeanor, approaching Splittgerber, who regarded her with severity and contempt, which she met with a gentle, friendly expression, a sweet smile hovering on her lips.

Marie came close up to the old man, who awaited her with haughty defiance, and never advanced one step to meet her-a lady splendidly bedecked with diamonds and gold-embroidered satin. She whispered a few words in his ear. He started, and, astonished, looked into her face, as if questioning what he heard. She nodded, smiling, and bent again to say a few words.

Suddenly Splittgerber seemed metamorphosed. His gloomy face brightened a little, and his insolent glance was changed to one of deep emotion, Bowing profoundly as he held the baroness's proffered hand to take leave, he pressed it most respectfully to his lips.

"You will return in an hour?" Marie asked.

"Yes; I shall seek the gentlemen, and bring them with me," he graciously replied.

"Thanks; I will then await you."

Splittgerber departed, and Marie returned to Ebenstreit who, amazed, muttered some unintelligible words, having listened to her mysterious conversation with the old book-keeper.

"Now to you, sir!" said she, her whole tone and manner changing to harsh command; "the hour for settling our accounts has arrived-the hour that I have awaited, purchasing it by four years of torture, self-contempt, and despair. This comedy is at an end. I will buy of you my freedom. Do you hear me? I will cast off these galley-chains. I will be free!"

"Oh, Marie!" he cried, retreating in terror, "with what fearful detestation you regard me!"

"Do you wonder at it? Have I ever concealed this hate from you, or ever given you hope to believe that a reconciliation would be possible between us?"

"No, truly you have not, but now you will forgive me, for you know how I love you, and have provided for your future. You will remain rich, and I shall be poor."

Marie regarded him with unspeakable contempt. "You are more despicable than I thought you were. You do not deserve forbearance or pity, for you are a dishonorable bankrupt, who cares not how much others may suffer, provided his future is secured. I will not, however, suffer the name which I have borne against my will, to be defamed and become a mark for scorn. I will compel you to remain an honest man, and be just to your creditors. I propose to pay the bills of exchange, which will be presented to you to-day, provided you will consent to my conditions."

"Oh, Marie, you are an angel!" he cried, rushing toward her and kneeling at her feet, "I will do all that you wish, and consent to every thing you propose."

"Will you swear it?" she coldly replied.

"I swear that I accept your conditions."

"Bring the writing-materials from the window-niche, and seat yourself by this table."

Ebenstreit brought them, and seated himself by the Florentine mosaic table, near which Marie was standing.

She drew from her pocket a paper, which she unfolded and placed before him to sign. "Sign this with your full name, and add, 'With my own free will and consent,'" she commandingly ordered him.

"But you will first make known to me the contents?"

"You have sworn to sign it," she said, "and unless you accept my conditions, you are welcome to be incarcerated for life in the debtor's prison. You have only to choose. If you decide in the negative, I will exert myself that your creditors do not free you. I should trust in the justice of God having sent you there, and that man in miserable pity should not act against His will in freeing you. Now decide; will you sign the paper, or go to prison as a dishonorable bankrupt?"

He hastily seized the pen and wrote his name, handing the paper to Marie, sighing.

"You have forgotten to add the clause, 'With my own free will and consent,'" she replied, hastily glancing at it, letting the paper drop like a wilted leaf, and her eyes flashing with scorn.

Ebenstreit saw it, and as he again handed her the paper, he exclaimed, "I read in your eyes the intense hate you bear me."

"Yes," she replied, composedly, "not only hate, but scorn. Hush! no response. You knew it long before I was forced to stand at the altar with you. I warned you not to unite yourself to me, and you had the impious audacity to defy me with your riches. The seed of hate which you then sowed, you may to-day reap the fruits of. You shall recognize now that money is miserable trash, and that when deprived of it you will never win sympathy from your so-called friends, but they will turn from you with contempt, when you crave their pity or aid."

"I think that you exaggerate, dearest," said Ebenstreit, fawningly. "You have many devoted friends among the ladies, and I can well say that I have found, among the distinguished gentlemen who visit our house, many noble, excellent ones who have met me with a warmth of friendship-"

"Because they would borrow money of the rich man," interrupted Marie.

"Of course my coffers have always been accessible to my dear friends, and I prized the honor of proving my friendship by my deeds."

"You will realize to-day how they prove their gratitude to you for it. Go, receive the good friends whom you have invited. It is time that they were here, and I perceive the carriages are approaching."

Marie motioned to the door, with a dictatorial wave of her hand, and Ebenstreit betook himself to the reception-room. Just as he crossed the threshold, the usher announced "Herr Gedicke! Ebenstreit greeted him hastily in passing, and the old man went on to meet the baroness, who was hastening toward him.

"You have most graciously invited me to your house to-day, and you will excuse me that my earnest wish to see you has brought me earlier than any other guest."

"I begged you to come a quarter of an hour sooner, for I would gladly speak with you alone a few moments."

"I thought so, and hastened up here."

"Did not my old Trude go to see you some days since?" asked Marie, timidly.

"She did, and you can w

ell understand that I was much affected and surprised at her visit. I thought that you had forgotten me, baroness, and that every souvenir of the past had fled from your memory. I now see that your noble, faithful heart can never forget, and therefore has never ceased to suffer, which I ought to regret, for your sake, but for my own it pleased me to receive your kind greeting."

Marie pressed her hand to her eyes and sighed audibly. "Pray do not speak so gently to me-it enervates me, and I would force myself to endure to-day. Only tell me, did Trude communicate to you my wishes, and will it be possible for you to fulfil them?"

"Your brave, good friend brought me a thousand dollars, praying me to convey this to Herr Moritz in order to defray the expenses of a journey to Italy."

"Have you accomplished it, and in such a manner that he does not suspect the source from whence it came? He would not receive it if he had the least suspicion of it. I have seen him secretly several times as he passed to and fro from the Gymnasium, and he appeared to me to grow paler and more languid every day."

"It is true that since you have come back he has changed. The old melancholy seems to have returned."

"He needs distraction; he must go away and forget me. It has always been his earnest wish to travel in Italy. You must tell him that you have succeeded in getting the money for him."

"I bethought myself of Moritz's publisher, represented to him how necessary it was for the health of Professor Moritz to travel, begged of him to order a work upon Italy, and particularly the works of art of Rome, and propose to Moritz the acceptance of the money for that object, as he was quite too proud to receive it as a present."

"That was an excellent idea," cried Marie. "Has it been accomplished?"

"Yes, as Herr Maurer made the proposal, and Moritz replied, sighing, that he had not the means for such a journey, the publisher immediately offered him half of the remuneration in advance; consequently he starts to-morrow for Italy, unknowing of the thousand dollars being your gift." [Footnote: This work, which was published after his return, still excites the highest interest, and is entitled "Travels of a German in Italy during 1786 and 1787.-Letters of Philip Carl Moritz," 8 vols., Berlin, published by Frederick Maurer.]

"How much I thank you!" she joyfully cried. "Moritz is saved; he will now recover, and forget all his grief in studying the objects of interest in the Eternal City."

"Do you really believe that?" asked Herr Gedicke. "Were you not also in Italy?"

"I was indeed there two years, but it was very different with me. It is difficult to forget you are a slave, when listening all the while to the clanking of your chains."

"My poor child, I read with sorrow the history of the past years in your grief-stricken face. It is the first time we have met since your marriage."

"See what these years have made of me!-a miserable wife, whom the world esteems, but who recoils from herself. My heart has changed to stone, and I feel metamorphosed. The sight of you recalls that fearful hour, melting my heart and causing the tears to flow. At that time you blessed me, my friend and father. Oh, grant me your blessing again in this hour of sorrow! I implore you for it, before an important decision! I long for the sympathy of a noble soul!"

"I know not, my child, with what grief this hour may be laden for you; but I lay my hand again upon your head, imploring God in His divine mercy to sustain you!"

"Countess von Moltke and Frau von Morien!" announced the usher. In brilliant toilets the ladies rustled in, hastening toward the baroness, who had now regained her wonted composure, and received them in her usual stately manner.

"How perfectly charming you look to-night!" cried Countess Moltke. "To me you are ever the impersonation of the goddess of wealth and beauty strewing everywhere with lavish generosity your gifts, and turning every thing to gold with your touch."

"But whose heart has remained tender and gentle," added Frau von Morien.-"You are indeed a goddess, always enhancing the pleasures of others. To-day I wear the beautiful bracelet which you sent me because I admired it."

"And I, ma toute belle," cried the countess, "have adorned myself with this superb gold brocade which you so kindly had sent from Paris for me."

"You have forgotten, countess, that you begged of me to give the order for you."

"Ah, that is true! Then I am your debtor."

"If you are not too proud to receive it as a present?"

"Oh, most certainly not; on the contrary, I thank you, my dear.-Tell me, my dear Morien, is not this woman an angel?"

At this instant the French ambassador, Marquis Treves, appeared among the numerous guests, whom the baroness stepped quickly forward to welcome, withdrawing with him into the window-niche.

"Welcome, marquis," she said, quickly, in a low voice, "Have you brought me the promised papers?"

Drawing a sealed packet from his coat-pocket, he handed it to the baroness with a low bow, saying: "I would draw your attention to the fact once more, dear madam, that I have abided by the price named by yourself, in making this sale, although I am still of the opinion that it is below its value."

"The sum is sufficient for my wants, and I rated its value according as it is taxed."

"There are a hundred thousand dollars in bills of exchange, payable at the French embassy at any moment," said the marquis.

"I thank you, sir, for this proof of friendly attention; and as it may be the last time we meet, I would assure you that I shall always remember your many and thoughtful kindnesses."

"You speak, baroness, as if you would forsake the circle of which you are the brightest ornament."

"No, the friends will forsake me," she replied, with a peculiar smile. "Ere an hour shall pass not one of all these numerous guests will remain here.-Ah, there comes the decision! See there, marquis!"

The usher announced "Banker Splittgerber." The old man entered followed by two men of not very presentable appearance, and whose toilet was but little in keeping with the brilliantly-decorated room and the aristocratic guests.

Never heeding the sneers nor contemptuous smiles, the faithful book-keeper wound his way, through the crowd of elegantly dressed ladies and gentlemen, accompanied by the two men, up to Ebenstreit, who, with instinctive politeness, had placed himself near Marie.

"Gentlemen," said Splittgerber, in a loud voice, "this is Baron Ebenstreit von Leuthen, principal of the banking-house Ludwig."

The two gentlemen approached, one of them saying, "They sent us here from your office."

"This is not the place for business," replied Ebenstreit. "Follow me!"

"No, gentlemen, remain here," cried Marie. "Our guests present are such intimate, devoted friends that we have nothing to conceal from them; but on the contrary, I am convinced they will only be too happy of the occasion to prove their friendship, of which they have so often assured us.-These gentlemen demand the payment of a bill of exchange for eighty thousand dollars. Take my portfolio, Ebenstreit; there is a pencil in it. Go around and make a collection; undoubtedly the entire sum will be soon noted down."

Ebenstreit approached the Baron von Frankenstein, saying: "Pardon me if I recall to your memory the sum of one thousand louis d'ors, due for four black horses three months since."

"My dear sir," cried the baron, "this is a strange manner to collect one's debts. We were invited to a feast, and a pistol is pointed at us, demanding our debts to be cancelled!"

"How strange! How ridiculous!" heard one here and there among the guests, as they, with one accord, pressed toward the door to make their exit, which they found fastened.

"Remain," cried Marie, with stately dignity. "I wish you honored guests to be witness of this scene in the hour of justification, as you were also present at the one when one of the noblest and best of men cursed me.-Banker Splittgerber, take these bills of exchange for one hundred thousand dollars. Pay these gentlemen, and devote the remainder to the other debts as far as it will go."

As the three men withdrew by a side-drier, Marie exclaimed: "I will now explain to you that Baron von Leuthen is ruined-poor as a beggar when he will not work."

"Marie," cried Ebenstreit, terrified, rushing toward her, and seizing her by the arm. "Marie-"

She threw off his hand from her in anger. "Do not touch me, sir, and do not presume either to address me with any endearments. You have yourself said that our marriage was not a veritable one, but was like the union of associates in business, and now I would inform you it is dissolved: the one is a bankrupt; the other a woman whom you cursed, and who reclaims of you four years of shame and degradation. You wonder at my speaking thus, but you do not know this man, my friends."

As she spoke, a door opened at the farther end of the room, and Trude entered in her simple dress, followed by Philip Moritz. Unobserved the two glided behind the charming grotto which had been arranged with flowers and wreaths in one of the niches. Every eye was turned upon the pale, stately beauty, erect in the centre of the room.

"Stay here, for no one can see us," whispered Trude. "I could not bear to have you leave Berlin without hearing the justification of my dear Marie, and may God pardon me for letting you come here unbeknown to her! Listen, and pray to Him to forgive you the great injustice that you have done her. Be quiet, that no one may see you, and Marie be angry with her old Trude."

"Yes," continued Marie, with chilling contempt, "you should know this man before whom you have all bowed, pressed the hand, and called your friend, because he was rich, and, thanks to his wealth alone, became a titled man-a baron, buying the hand of a poor but noble maiden, whom he knew despised him, and passionately loved another, having sworn eternal constancy to him. I am that young girl. I begged, nay implored him, not to pursue me, but he was void of pity, mocked my tears, and said he could buy my love, and my heart would at last be touched by the influence of his wealth. I should have preferred to die, but Fate ordered that the one I loved, by my fault, should by imprisonment atone our brief dream of bliss. I could only save him by accepting this man; these were the conditions. I became his wife before the world, and took my oath in his presence to revenge myself, and after four years I shall accomplish it. I have spent his money, and of the rich man made a beggar. God be praised, I can now revenge myself in freeing myself!"

"Free yourself? It is not true! You are my wife still," replied Ebenstreit, alarmed.

A radiant smile flitted over Marie's face as she defied Ebenstreit with the law of the Great Frederick, who had decided that every unhappy couple without offspring could separate by their own free will and consent, having signed a paper to that effect.

"Is that the paper which you have made me sign?" cried Ebenstreit, alarmed.

"Yes, drawn up by my notary, and both of our names are signed to it."

"It is a fraud!" cried Ebenstreit. "I will protest against it."

"Do it, and you will find it a vain effort. I promised to pay your debt if you would put your name to the document then placed before you, which you did. Ask the Marquis Treves how I paid your debts: he will answer you that he has given me the money."

"I had the honor to pay to the baroness one hundred thousand dollars, as she rightly informs you."

"Yes," continued Marie, "the marquis is the present possessor of this house and all that it contains-furniture, statues, and pictures; also the equipages and silver. To my mother I sent my diamonds, costly laces, and dresses, to indemnify her for the annuity which Herr von Ebenstreit settled upon her as purchase-money which he cannot pay, now that he is ruined."

"Marquis," cried Ebenstreit, pale with anger, "have you really bought this house and its contents?"

"I have done so, and the one hundred thousand dollars the baroness has paid over to Herr Splittgerber."

"Oh! I am ruined," groaned Ebenstreit-"I am lost!" and, covering his face with his hands, he rushed from the room.

Marie gazed at him with a sad expression, saying: "Ladies and gentlemen, you now know to whom this house belongs. You can no longer say that I am the daughter whom the late General von Leuthen sold to a rich man. I am free!"

At this moment a side-door opened, and Frau von Leuthen was heard saying to old Trude: "Let me in! it is in vain to hold me back. I will have an explanation from my daughter, and learn what all this means." As she pushed herself into the room, she exclaimed: "Ah, it is a fete day! There is the baroness in all her glory and splendor. She is not crazed, as I feared this morning, when she sent me all her ornaments and fine dresses and laces, with a note, sealed with black, inscribed upon it, 'Will Of the Baroness Ebenstreit von Leuthen.' I opened it, and read: 'I give to my mother my precious ornaments, laces, and dresses, to secure to her the pension which she has lost.-Marie. 'I came here to learn if my daughter were dead, and what the conclusion of this lost pension may be, and I find-"

"You find the confirmation of all that I wrote to you," replied Marie, coldly. "Baron Ebenstreit von Leuthen is ruined. I have secured to you, in the sum which my jewels and laces will bring you, the annuity, so that you have not lost the money promised you for your daughter, and the marriage you have arranged has at least borne good fruit to you."

"You are a cruel, ungrateful child," cried the mother. "I have long known it, and rejected you from my heart, and from all shame I will yet protect the name you bear. I have just seen a sign in the Friedrich-strasse, 'Flower manufactory of Marie von Leuthen.' What does this mean? Terrified, I stared speechless at these fearful words, and at the busy workmen preparing the house."

"I will explain it to you," cried Marie, with radiant mien. "I have again become the flower-maker, and beg your favor, Countess von Moltke, Frau von Morien, and all the other ladies. I am free, and no longer the wife of a hated husband-no longer the distinguished and wealthy woman. All delusion and mockery have vanished. The costly dress and jewels that I now wear I will cast of from me as the last souvenir of the past."

Unclasping the diamond necklace and bracelets, she handed them to her mother, saying: "Take them, and also this dress, the last finery I possess." She unloosed the band, and the long white satin train fell at her feet. Emerging from it as from a silvery cloud, she stood before them in a simple white dress, as she was clothed in her girlhood. "Take them all," she joyfully cried. "Take them, mother, it is all past. I am now myself again. Farewell, witnesses of this scene! I now quit your circle; and you, my mother, I forgive you; may the thoughts of your unhappy child never trouble you, waking or sleeping; may you forget that your daughter lives, and is wretched. Revenge has not softened my grief, or removed your curse from my head!"

"I will lift it off your brow, Marie!" cried Moritz, suddenly appearing from the window-niche, with beaming face and outstretched arms, approaching Marie, whom surprised and alarmed, retreated. "Oh, noble, courageous woman, forgive me that I have been an unbidden witness to this scene, though by this means I now clearly recognize your strength of mind, and elevation of soul, and the wrong that I have committed in doubting and cursing you during these four years of gloom and despair. I bow before you, Marie, and implore you, upon my knees, to forgive me all the cruel, harsh words that I have uttered-that I have dared as a wretched fool to doubt you in this long night of despair. The day is dawning again upon us; a new sun will yet cheer us with its rays. Do not turn from me, but look at me, and grant me forgiveness.-My dear friend and father, speak for me, for you know what I have suffered. Beg of her to forgive me."

"Marie," said the venerable old man, approaching her, gently putting his arm around her, "God has willed that you, my poor, long-tried child, should pass through a season of extreme sorrow. You are now released, and all that belonged to you has vanished!"

As he spoke, he signed to the guests to withdraw. Many had already escaped the painful scene by the side-door. Marie was now alone in the magnificent apartment, with Herr Gedicke and Moritz. She still stood, with concealed face, in the centre of the room.

"Oh, Marie," implored Moritz, "hide not your dear face from me! Read in mine the deep grief of the past and the bliss of the future. I thank God that this unnatural union is severed, and that you are free. Be courageous to the end!" Moritz impetuously drew her hand away, revealing her tearful countenance, as her head sank upon his shoulder. "Can you not forgive me, Marie?" he cried, with deep emotion. "We have both wandered through a waste of grief, and now approach life radiant with happiness. Oh, speak to me, Marie; can you not love me and forgive me?"

She gazed into his eyes, and in their depths read that which gradually softened her hardened features, and caused a smile to play upon her lip. "I love you dearly, devotedly; let this be our parting word. Go forth into the world, Moritz; my affection will follow you whithersoever you wander, and my soul will be true to you through all eternity, though we are forever separated. The poor wife, with her dismal retrospections, must not cast a shadow upon your future. Go, my beloved-Italy awaits you, and art will console you!"

"Follow me, dear Marie; only by your side am I happy. You are free and independent," cried Moritz.

"Oh, father," cried Marie, leaning upon the venerable old man, "explain to him that I am still the wife of that hated man!"

"She is right, Philip; do not urge her further. She must first be legally separated, and this weary heart must have time to recover its wonted calm. Go to Italy, and confide your future and happiness to my care. Marie has lost a mother, but she shall find a father in me. I will watch over her until your return."

Just then the door opened, and Trude entered. "Every thing is ready; all the things which used to stand in the little garret-room are packed and sent to the manufactory. Shall we go, too, dear child?"

"Yes," she cried, embracing the faithful old woman. "Farewell, Philip-Italy calls you!"

"I will go, but when I return will you not be my wife?"

Marie gazed at Moritz, radiant with happiness, saying: "The answer is engraven upon my heart. Return, and then I will joyfully respond to your love before God and man!"

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares