Behind the queen and Princess Amelia appeared the Princess Henry. She was also superbly dressed, but those who looked upon her thought not of her toilet; they were refreshed, enraptured by her adorable beauty—by the goodness and purity written on her rosy cheek. To-day, however, the eyes of the princesses were less clear and dazzling than usual—a gleam of sadness shadowed her fair brow, and her coral lips trembled lightly as if in pain. Perhaps it was the remembrance of the beautiful and happy days, past and gone like a dream, which made the lonely present seem so bitter. Absentminded and thoughtful, she stepped forward without looking to the right or left, regardless of the flashing orders and stars, of the handsome officers and courtly circle bowing profoundly before her as she passed on.
The court had now passed; the bowed heads were raised, and now the young French officers cast impertinent, almost challenging glances, at the ladies of the queen and the princesses, who drew near and bestowed here and there stolen smiles and light greetings upon their admirers.
Fraulein Marshal did not seem to be aware that the insolent eyes of these haughty Frenchmen were fixed upon her. Proudly erect she advanced; her large blue eyes were turned toward the princess; she gave neither glance nor smile to any one; her noble and beautiful countenance had a stern, resolved expression—her lips were pouting, and her usually soft eyes told tales of an angry soul. There was something Juno-like in her appearance—she was lovely to behold, but cold and stern in her beauty.
As she passed by Count Belleville, he exclaimed with a sigh to his neighbor: "Ah, look at this majestic Galatea, this beautiful marble statue, which can only be awaked to life by kisses."
Fraulein Marshal trembled slightly; a crimson blush suffused her face, her shoulders, and even her back; but she did not hesitate or turn. She moved on slowly, though she heard the officers laughing and whispering—though she felt that their presumptuous eyes were fixed upon her.
The queen and princesses made the grande tournee through the rooms, and then mingled with the guests; all formal etiquette was now laid aside, and a gay and unembarrassed conversation might be carried on till the beginning of the concert. This seemed to degenerate, on the part of the French officers, to an indiscreet, frenzied levity. They laughed and talked boisterously—they walked arm in arm before the ladies, and remarked upon them so boldly, that crimson blushes, or frightened pallor, was the result. Even the queen remarked the strange and unaccountable excitement of her guests, and to put an end to it, she entered the concert-room and ordered the music to commence. Even this had no effect. The royal capello played an overture composed by the king, with masterly precision—the singers emulated them in an Italian aria—but all this did not silence the noisy conversation of the Frenchmen. They laughed and chatted without restraint; and neither the amazed glances of the princesses nor the signs of the grand-master of ceremonies, made the slightest impression upon them.
Suddenly there was a slight pause, and the Princess Amelia rose up from her seat and beckoned with her fan to Baron Pollnitz. In a loud and angry voice, she said: "Baron Pollnitz, I insist upon your forcing these shrieking popinjays of the Marquise de Pompadour to silence. We cannot hear the music for their loud chattering. The like birds may pass very well in the gallant boudoir of a certain marquise, but not in a royal palace of Berlin."
Pollnitz shrank back in alarm, and fixed an imploring look upon the princess. Amongst the French officers arose an angry murmur, swelling louder and louder, more and more threatening, and completely drowning the music which was just recommencing.
The queen bowed down to the princess. "I pray you, sister," said she in a low voice, "remember that we are poor, unprotected women, and not in a condition to defend ourselves. Let us appear not to remark this unmannerly conduct, and let us remember that the king has made it our duty to receive the French officers with marked attention."
"You, sister, are simply a slave to the commands of the king. He is more truly your master than your husband," said the princess, angrily.
The queen smiled sweetly. "You are right; I am his slave, and my soul has chosen him for its lord. Blame me not, then, for my obedience."
"Do you intend to allow the arrogant presumption of these haughty Frenchmen to go unpunished?"
"I will take pains not to observe it," said the queen, turning her attention again to the music. During all this time, Count Belleville stood behind Fraulein Marshal. While the concert was going on, he bowed over her and spoke long and impressively. Fraulein Marshal did not reply; neither his ardent love-assurances, nor his glowing reproaches, nor his passionate entreaties, nor his bold and offensive insolence, could draw from her one word, one look.
When the concert was over, and they were about to return to the saloon where, until supper, they could dance and amuse themselves, the young maiden turned with calm composure and indifference to Count Belleville. "Sir, I forbid you to molest me with your presence, and I counsel you no longer to offend my ears with these indecent romances, which you have no doubt learned upon the streets of Paris. But if, believing that I am unprotected, you still dare to insult me, I Inform you that my father has this moment arrived, and will certainly relieve me from your disagreeable and troublesome society." She spoke aloud, and not only Belleville, but the group of French officers who stood behind him, heard every word. She passed by them with calm indifference and joined a large, elderly officer, who was leaning against a pillar, and who stretched out his hand smilingly toward her.
"Father," she said, "God himself put it in your heart to come to Berlin this day. You are by my side, and I have nothing to fear. I know you can protect me."
In the mean time, the musicians commenced to play the grave and at the same time coquettish minuet, and the officers drew near the ladies to lead them to the dance. This was done, however, in so bold and unconstrained a manner, with such manifest nonchalance, the request was made with such levity, the words were so little respectful, that the ladies drew back frightened. Princess Amelia called Fraulein Marshal to her side. She took her hand with a kindly smile.
"My child," she said, "I rejoice that you have the courage to defy these shameless coxcombs. Go on, and count upon my protection. Why are you not dancing?"
"Because no one has asked me."
At this moment an officer drew near with diligent haste, apparently to lead her to the dance. While in the act of offering his hand to her he made a sudden movement, as if he had just recognized the lady, turned his back, and withdrew without a word of apology.
The princess was enraged. "I promise you they shall be punished for this presumption." She turned to Baron Marshal, who stood behind his daughter: "Baron," said she, "if this leads to a duel, I will be your second!"
CHAPTER VII. IN THE WINDOW-NICHE.
While these events were occurring in the dancing-room, and the queen was seated at the card-table, the Princess Wilhelmina, wife of Prince Henry, stood in the window-niche of the ball-room and conversed with Count Kalkreuth, the friend and adjutant of her husband. The count had been sent home amongst the wounded, but he was now restored and about to return to the camp. They spoke quickly and impressively together, but the music drowned their words and made them indistinct to all others. What said they to each other? Seemingly petty and indifferent things. They had, perhaps, a deeper, secret meaning, for the countenance of the princess and that of the count were grave, and the sweet smile had vanished from the charming face of the princess. They spoke of unimportant things, perhaps, because they had not the courage for the great word which must be spoken—the word farewell!
"Your royal highness has then no further commission to give me for the prince?" said the count, after a pause.
"No," said the princess; "I wrote to him yesterday by the courier. Describe the ball to him, and tell him how we are, and how you left me."
"I must tell him, then, that your highness is perfectly gay, entirely happy, and glowing with health and beauty," said the count. These were simple and suitable words, but they were spoken in a hard and bitter tone.
The princess fixed her large soft eyes with an almost pleading expression upon the count; then with a quick movement she took a wreath of white roses, which she wore in her bosom, and held them toward him. "As a proof that I am gay and happy," said she, "take these flowers to my husband, and tell him I adorned myself with them in honor of his fete."
The count pressed his lips convulsively together and looked angrily upon the princess, but he did not raise his hand to take the flowers—did not appear to see that she held them toward him.
"Well, sir," said the Princess Wilhelmina, "you do not take the flowers?"
"No," said he, passionately, "I will not take them." The princess looked anxiously around; she feared some one might have heard this stormy "No." She soon convinced herself that there was no listener nearer than her maid of honor; Fraulein Marshal was still near the Princess Amelia, and she was somewhat isolated by etiquette; she saw, therefore, that she dared carry on this conversation.
"Why will you not take my flowers?" she said, proudly.
The count drew nearer. "I will tell you, princess," said he—"I will tell you, if this passionate pain now burning in my breast does not slay me. I will not take your flowers, because I will not be a messenger of love between you and the prince; because I cannot accept the shame and degradation which such an office would lay upon me. Princess you have forgotten, but I remember there was a wondrous time in which I, and not the prince, was favored with a like precious gift. At that time you allowed me to hope that this glowing, inextinguishable feeling which filled my heart, my soul, found an echo in your breast; that at least you would not condemn me to die unheard, misunderstood."
"I knew not at that time that my husband loved me," murmured the princess; "I thought I was free and justified in giving that heart which no one claimed to whom I would."
"You had no sooner learned that the prince loved you than you turned from me, proud and cold," said the count, bitterly; "relentlessly, without mercy, without pity, you trampled my heart under your feet, and not a glance, not a word showed me that you had any remembrance of the past. I will tell you what I suffered. You have a cold heart, it will make you happy to hear of any anguish. I loved you so madly I almost hated you; in the madness of my passion I cursed you. I thanked God for the war, which forced me to that for which I had never found the moral strength to leave you. Yes, I was grateful when the war called me to the field—I hoped to die. I did not wish to dishonor my name by suicide. I was recklessly brave, because I despised life—I rushed madly into the ranks of the enemy, seeking death at their hands, but God's blessed minister disdained me even as you had done. I was borne alive from the battle-field and brought to Berlin to be nursed and kindly cared for. No one knew that here I received daily new and bitter wounds. You were always cruel, cruel even to the last moment; you saw my sufferings, but you were inexorable. Oh, princess, it would have been better to refuse me entrance, to banish me from your presence, than to make my heart torpid under the influence of your cold glance, your polished speech, which ever allured me and yet kept me at a distance. You have played a cruel game with me, princess you mock me to the last. Shall I be your messenger to the prince? You know well that I would give my heart's blood for one of those sweet flowers, and you send them by me to another. My humility, my subjection is at an end; you have sinned against me as a woman, and I have therefore the right to accuse you as a man. I will not take these flowers! I will not give them to the prince! And now I have finished—I beg you to dismiss me."
The princess had listened tremblingly; her face became ever paler—completely exhausted, she leaned against the wall.
"Before you go," whispered she, "listen to a few words; it may be that the death you seek may be found on the battle-field—this may be our last interview in this world; in such a moment we dare speak the truth to each other; from the souls which have been closely veiled, may cloud and darkness be for one moment lifted. What I now say to you shall go as a sacred secret with you to the grave, if you fall; but if God hears my prayer, and you return, I command you to forget it, never to remind me of it. You say I have a cold heart. Alas! I only choked the flame which raged within me; I would have my honor and my duty burned to ashes. You say that my eyes are never clouded, that they shed no tears. Ah! believe me, I have wept inwardly, and the silent, unseen tears the heart weeps are bitterer than all others. You reproach me for having received you when you returned here sick and wounded, and for not having closed my doors against you. I know well that was my duty, and a thousand times I have prayed to God on my knees for strength to do this, but He did not hear me or He had no mercy. I could not send you off; had my lips spoken the fearful words, the shriek of my heart would have called you back. My lips had strength to refuse an answer to the question which I read in your face, in your deep dejection, but my heart answered you in silence and tears. Like you, I could not forget—like you I remembered the bounteous sweet past. Now you know all—go! As you will not take these flowers to the prince, they are yours, were intended for you; I have baptized them with my tears. Farewell!"
She gave him the flowers, and without looking toward him, without giving him time to answer, she stepped forward and called her chamberlain.
"Count Saldow, be kind enough to accompany Count Kalkreuth, and give him the books and papers my husband has ordered."
Wilhelmina passed on proudly, calmly, with a smile on her lips, but no one knew what it cost her poor heart. She did not look back. Kalkreuth would have given years to take leave once more of the lovely face, to ask pardon for the hard, rude words he had dared to say. The princess had still the bashful timidity of virtue; after the confession she had made she dared not look upon him. The count controlled himself; he followed Saldow. He was bewildered, rapturously giddy. As he left the castle and entered his carriage he looked up at the window and said: "I will not die!—I will return!"—then pressed the bouquet to his lips and sank back in the carriage.
CHAPTER VIII. THE NUTSHELLS BEHIND THE FAUTEUIL OF THE QUEEN.
Princess Wilhelmina, as we have said, did not look back; she stepped silently through the ball-room, and approached the Princess Amelia. She stood for a moment behind a couple who were dancing the Francaise. The French officers had just taught this dance to the Prussian ladies as the newest Parisian mode.
It was a graceful and coquettish dance, approaching and avoiding; the ladies stood opposite their cavaliers, and advanced with smiling grace, then appeared to fly from them in mocking haste. They were pursued in artistic tours by their cavaliers; at the end of the dance their hands were clasped in each other's, and they danced through the room with the graceful time and step of the minuet.
Princess Wilhelmina stood silent and unobservant; she knew not the dance was ended; she knew not that the music was silenced. A softer, sweeter, dearer melody sounded in her ears; she heard the echo of that voice which had spoken scornfully, despairingly, and yet love had been the sweet theme.
The sudden stillness waked her from her dream and she stepped forward. The general silence was interrupted by the well-known coarse, stern voice of the Princess Amelia.
"Does this dance please you, Baron Marshal? The French officers have taught it to our ladies as a return for the dance which our brave Prussian soldiers taught the French at Rossbach; at Rossbach, however, they danced to a quicker, faster tempo. These Frenchmen are now calling out, 'En avant!' but at Rossbach, I am told, 'En arriere!' was the word of command."
A death-like silence followed these sarcastic words of the princess, and throughout the room her mocking, derisive laugh which followed these words was distinctly heard. She rose, and leaning upon the arm of Baron Marshal, advanced to meet the Princess Wilhelmina, and cast a fierce glance at the officers, who were assembled in groups and talking in low tones but earnestly with each other.
Suddenly Belleville, leaning on another officer, advanced from one of these groups; they walked backward and forward, laughing and chattering loudly, without regarding the presence of the princess. They then drew near the orchestra, and called out in a jovial tone:
"Messieurs, have the kindness to play a Dutch waltz, but in the quick time which the Austrians played at Hochkirch, when they drove the Prussians before them; and in which Field-Marshal Broglie played at Bergen, when he tramped upon the Prussians! Play on, messieurs! play on!"
Belleville then danced forward with great levity of manner to Fraulein Marshal, who stood by the side of her father; without saluting her, he seized her hand.
"Come, ma toute belle," said he, "you have played the marble statue long enough for one day; it is time that you should awake to life in my arms. Come, then, and dance with me your lascivious Dutch waltz, which no respectable woman in France would dare to dance! Come! come!"
Belleville tried to drag Fraulein Marshal forward, but at the instant a powerful and heavy arm was laid upon him, and his hand was dashed off rudely.
"I have heard you to the end," said Baron Marshal, calmly; "I wished to see a little of the renowned gallantry of which the Frenchman is so proud. It appears to me that a strange ton must now reign in Paris, well suited, perhaps, to the boudoirs of mistresses, but not fitting or acceptable to the ears of respectable women. I beg you therefore, sir, not to assume this ton in Berlin; I am resolved not to endure it."
Belleville laughed aloud, drew very near the baron, and looked him insolently in the face.
"Who are you, monsieur, who dare take the liberty of begging me, who do not know you, to do or not do any thing?"
"I am Baron Marshal, the father of this lady whom you have dared to offend!"
Belleville laughed still louder than before.
"Aha! that is a beautiful fairy tale! You who are as hideous as a baboon, and have borrowed the eyes of the cat!—you the father of the lovely Galatea Marshal!—tell that tale to other ears—I do not believe in such aberrations of Nature. I repeat my question: who are you? what is your name?"
"I repeat to you, I am Baron Marshal, the father of this lady."
"You are more credulous, sir, than I am, if you believe that," said Belleville, coarsely.
"Perhaps I am less credulous than you suppose," said Marshal, quietly. "It would, for example, be difficult for me to believe that you are a nobleman. I can assure you, however, that I am not only noble, but a man of honor."
Belleville was in the act of giving a passionate answer, when the doors of the supper-room were thrown open, and a sea of light irradiated the room.
At this moment, the queen and her ladies entered from the card-room, and, at her appearance, every word, every sound was hushed. Silently, and with a conciliatory smile, the queen passed through the saloon, and seated herself at the table; she then gave the sign to the grand-master, that her guests should be seated. And now the servants, in golden liveries, flew from side to side bearing silver plates, containing the rare and fragrant viands which the inventive head of Baron Pollnitz had ordered for the favored guests of her majesty the Queen of Prussia.
Nothing is so well calculated to quiet the perturbed soul as a costly and well-prepared feast. The haughty Frenchmen soon forgot their mortified vanity and resentment, and were well pleased to be seated at the table of the "great Frederick." They ate and drank right merrily in honor of the bold and brave prince who had sent them here from Rossbach; but if the rich dishes made them forget their mortification, the fiery wine excited yet more their presumptuous levity. They forgot that they were the guests of a queen. Louder and more extravagant was their gayety, more boisterous, more indiscreet their unrestrained laughter. In their frantic merriment they dared to sing aloud some of the little ambiguous, equivocal chansons, which belonged to the gamins of Paris, and at which the Marquise de Pompadour laughed till she shed tears when sung sometimes by the merry courtiers.
In vain the grand-master besought them, in his most polished manner, not to sing at table.
"We have been so long forced to listen to the dull, screeching discord of your singers, that we must have some compensation!" said they. "Besides," said Belleville, in a loud voice, "it belongs now to bon ton to sing at the table; and the Prussian court should thank us for introducing this new Parisian mode."
They sang, chatted, laughed, and almost overpowered the music by their boisterous levity. Their presumptuous revelry seemed to be every moment on the increase. The Austrian and Russian officers looked upon them with disgust and alarm, and entreated them to desist; but the French officers were regardless of all etiquette. During the dessert, Belleville and some of his friends arose and drew near the table at which the queen and the princesses were seated; this was in the middle of the room, and slightly separated from the other tables. They gazed at the princesses with insolent eyes, and, placing themselves behind the chair of the queen, they began to crack nuts with their teeth, and throw the shells carelessly upon the floor, near her majesty.
The queen continued a quiet conversation with the Princess Wilhelmina, and appeared wholly unconscious of this rudeness and vulgarity; but her face was pallid, and her eyes filled with tears.
"I pray your majesty to rise from the table!" said the Princess Wilhelmina. "Look at the Princess Amelia; her countenance glows with anger; there is a tempest on her brow, and it is about to burst upon us."
"You are right; that is the best way to end this torture." She rose from the table, and gave a sign for a general movement. When the queen and her suite had left the room, Baron Marshal drew near Count Belleville.
"Sir." said he. "I told you before that I was not sufficiently credulous to take you for a nobleman. Your conduct at the table has proved that I did well to doubt you. Yourself and friends have shown that you are strangers to the duties of cavaliers, and utterly ignorant of the manners of good society."
"Ah!" cried Belleville, "this offence demands satisfaction."
"I am ready to grant it," said Baron Marshal; "name the time and place of meeting."
"You know well," cried Belleville, "that I am a prisoner, and have given my word of honor not to use my sword!"
"So you were impertinent and shameless, because you knew you were safe? You knew that, thanks to your word of honor, you could not be chastised!"
"Sir," cried Belleville, "you forget that you speak not only to a nobleman, but to a soldier."
"Well, I know that I speak to a Frenchman, who lost his powder-mantle and pomatum-pot at Rossbach."
Belleville, beside himself with rage, seized his sword, and half drew it from the scabbard.
"God be praised, I have a sword with which to revenge insult!" he cried. "I have given my word not to use it on the battle-field against the Prussians, but here we stand as private adversaries, man to man, and I challenge you, sir—I challenge you to mortal combat. I will have satisfaction! You have insulted me as a nobleman, as a Frenchman, and as a soldier. No consideration shall restrain me. I dare not use my sword—well, then, we will fight with pistols. As to time and place, expect me to-morrow, at eight o'clock, in the Thiergarden."
"I accept the conditions, and I will await you with your seconds," said Baron Marshal.
"If the baron has not chosen his seconds," said a soft voice behind him, "I beg to offer my services."
Baron Marshal turned, and saw an officer in the Austrian uniform.
"Count Ranuzi," cried Belleville, astonished; "how, monsieur! you offer yourself as second to my adversary? I had thought to ask this service of you."
"I suspected so," said Ranuzi, with his accustomed calm and quiet manner, "therefore I anticipated you. The right is certainly on the side of Baron Marshal, and in offering myself as his second. I do so in the name of all the Austrian officers who are present. They have all seen the events of this evening with painful indignation. Without doubt the world will soon be acquainted with them; we wish to make an open, public demonstration that we wholly disapprove the conduct of the French officers. The nutshells thrown behind the fauteuil of the queen have made us your adversaries, Count Belleville."
"That is not the occasion of this duel, but the affront offered me by Baron Marshal," cried Belleville. "This being the case, will you still be the second of my opponent?"
"I was compelled to insult you," said Baron Marshal, "because you would have given me no satisfaction for the nutshells thrown behind the fauteuil of the queen; but be assured that I don't fight with you in order that you may wash out my offence with my blood, but wholly and alone that your blood may wash away the nutshells from the feet of the queen."
Baron Marshal then turned to Ranuzi. "I accept your offer, sir, and rejoice to make the acquaintance of a true nobleman. Have the goodness to meet the seconds of Count Belleville, and make all necessary arrangements. I will call for you early in the morning. I only say further that it is useless to make any attempts at reconciliation—I shall not listen to them. Prussia and France are at war. My great king has made no peace—I also will not hear of it. The nutshells lie behind the fauteuil of the queen, and only the blood of Count Belleville can wash them away."
He bowed to Ranuzi, and joined his daughter, who, pale and trembling, awaited him in the next room.
"Oh, father," said she, with tears gushing from her eyes, "your life is in danger—you meet death on my account!"
"No, thank God, my child, your name will not be mixed up in this affair. No one can say that the mortified father revenged an insult offered to his daughter. I fight this duel not for you, but because of the nutshells behind the fauteuil of the queen."
CHAPTER IX. THE DUEL AND ITS CONSEQUENCES.
Early in the morning two horsemen dashed down the Linden. Their loud conversation, their pert and noisy laughter, aroused the curiosity of the porters who stood yawning in the house-doors, and the maids opened the windows and gazed curiously at the two gallant French officers who were taking such an early ride to the Thiergarden. When the girls were young and pretty, Belleville threw them a kiss as he passed by, and commanded them to give it with his tenderest greeting to their fair mistress.
"Happily," said his companion, "these good Berliners do not understand our speech sufficiently to inform their mistresses of this last insolence of Count Belleville."
"They do not, but their mistresses do, and I cannot think that they are still sleeping. No, I am convinced they have risen early, and are now standing behind their maids, and watching us go by. In this street dwell those who call themselves society; they were at the castle yesterday, and know of this duel. I think our good marquise will one day reward me richly for this duel, when I tell her I stood behind the queen and cracked nuts like a gamin in Paris, and that I was shot at because of the nutshells. She will laugh tears—tears which I will strive to convert into diamonds for myself."
"You feel assured that you will return unharmed from this duel?"
"Yes, I cannot doubt it. I always won the prize at our pistol-shooting in Paris, and then, this stupid Dutchman is, without doubt, horrified at the thought of shooting at a man, and not at a mark. No, vraiment, I do not doubt but I shall be victorious, and I rejoice in anticipation of that dejeuner dinatoire with which my friends will celebrate it."
"But," said his second, "let us for a moment suppose that you are not victorious; one must ever be prepared in this poor world, ruled by accident, for the worst that can befall. In case you fall, have you no last commissions to give me?"
Count Belleville stopped his horse as they were in the act of entering the garden.
"You positively insist on burying me? Well, then. I will make my last will. In case I fall go instantly to my quarters, open my writing-desk, and press upon a small button you will see on the left side; there you will find letters and papers; tie them carefully, and send them in the usual way to Countess Bernis. As to my heritage, you know I have no gold; I leave nothing but debts My clothes you can give to my faithful servant, Francois; for the last year I have paid him no wages Now my testament is made—no, stop, I had forgotten the most important item. Should the inconceivable, the unimaginable happen, should this Dutch village—devil slay me, I make it the duty of the French officers here to revenge me on the haughty daughter of my adversary, and on all these dull and prudish beauties. They must carry out what I intended yesterday. I have drawn a few sketches and added a few notes; make as many copies as are required, and paste them on the designated places. If I fall, this must be done the following night, that my wandering soul may find repose in the sweet consciousness of revenge. If my enemy's ball strikes me, hasten forward, and, before any one dares lay his hand upon me, take from my breast-pocket a paper, which you will find there, and conceal it; it is the drawing, and it is my legacy to my comrades. Swear to me to do as I have said."
"And now, mon ami, let us forget this stupid thought of death, and look life saucily and merrily in the face. Life will not have the courage to break with a brave son of la belle France."
Belleville drew his bridle suddenly, and sprang through the gate into the garden; turning to the right, they rode for some time under the shadow of the trees, then through a side allee, which led to an open place surrounded by lofty oaks. At this moment he heard the roll of an open carriage, and turning, he saluted gayly the two gentlemen who were seated in it; he checked his horse suddenly in order to ride by their side, and provoking the beautiful and noble beast by the rude use of his spurs, he forced it into many difficult and artistic evolutions. Arrived at the place of rendezvous, he sprang lightly from the saddle and fastened his horse to a tree, then drew near Baron Marshal, who, with Ranuzi, was just descending from the carriage.
"No man could be more prudent than yourself, sir," said he, laughing, "to come to a rendezvous in a carriage; truly, that is a wise and, I think on this occasion, well-grounded precaution."
"A forethought which I have exercised on your account," said the baron, gravely. "You, sir, will require a carriage, and knowing you, as a stranger, had no carriage in Berlin, I brought mine. It shall be at your service."
"Vraiment! you are too good! I hope, however, not to make use of your offer."
Now, according to custom, Ranuzi drew near the baron to make a last attempt at reconciliation. He answered sternly: "You know that I am not to blame, and therefore will take no step in this matter. I suppose, Count Belleville is as little disposed as myself to make apologies."
"I intend to prove to you, sir baron, that I am a nobleman and a brave one; and as to the nuts which I cracked behind the queen, my only regret is, that they, like every thing else in your detested Berlin, were hollow—"
"No, sir, they were not at all hollow," said Baron Marshal, drawing up the cock of his pistol; "in one of those nuts I saw a death-worm, which will soon bore into your flesh."
He bowed to Belleville and took the place pointed out by his second. The second of Belleville then drew near, and led him to the outermost point of the line.
The Frenchman laughed aloud. "How," said he, "you will take me to the end of the world to secure me from the ball of my enemy?"
"Sir," said the grave and solemn voice of the baron, "you will still be too near me."
"Well, sir baron, I give you precedence," said Belleville, laughing, "though, I believe, I have the right; but age must have the precedence—fire, sir."
"No, young man," said Marshal, sadly; "I will grant you one more glance at the glad sun and the fresh, green earth; you shall fire first, and I council you to lay aside your levity; let your hand be firm and your aim steady; if you fail, you are lost. I am a good shot, and I am without mercy."
There was something so convincing, so gloomy in his tone, that Belleville was involuntarily affected by it. For the first time his brow was clouded, and a slight pallor took possession of his cheek; but he forced back this prophetic shudder quickly, and raised his pistol with a firm hand.
Far away, in the still park, sounded the echo of his shot; but opposite to him stood his adversary, firm and calm as before, with his eye fixed steadily upon him.
Belleville threw his pistol to the ground, and drawing his gold snuff-box from his vest-pocket with his small white hands, adorned with cuffs of lace, he played carelessly upon the lid; then opened it, and slowly and gracefully took a pinch of snuff, saying, coolly, "I await your ball."
Marshal raised his pistol and aimed directly at the head of his enemy, who looked him firmly in the eye. The appearance of this youthful, fresh, and brave face softened, against his will, the noble and magnanimous soul of this good man. He let his arm fall. "Sir," said he, "you are so young, perhaps your life may improve. I will not kill you. But you need for this life a great, impressive lesson and a lasting warning. I will therefore shoot you through the right leg, just above the knee." [Footnote: The words of Baron Marshal.—See Thiebault.] He raised the pistol quickly, and fired. As the smoke was lifted, Belleville was seen lying bleeding on the ground. The shot had gone right through the knee and broken the knee-pan.
As his second bowed over him, Belleville whispered, with broken eyes and trembling lips: "My legacy! do not forget my legacy! I believe I shall die; this pain is horrible."
The Frenchman took the paper from his pocket and concealed it "I will be avenged," said Belleville, with a convulsive smile, then sank into unconsciousness.
Belleville was placed in the carriage of Baron Marshal and carried to the city. Baron Marshal went immediately to the commandant of Berlin, gave notice of what had taken place, and declared himself under arrest.
The commandant took his hand kindly. "The laws forbid duelling, and I must consider you under arrest until I receive further orders. That is to say, house-arrest; you must give me your word not to leave your house. I will send a courier immediately to the king. I was in the castle last night, and witness to all the circumstances which led to this duel, witnessed the conduct of these Frenchmen, and in your place I would have acted just as you have done."
The French officers fulfilled the vow they had made to their wounded comrade; they had promised to revenge him on Fraulein Marshal and the other ladies of the court.
The morning after the duel, on the corners of all the principal streets, placards were pasted, which were soon surrounded by crowds of men, exhibiting astonishment and indignation. These placards contained a register of all the young and beautiful women of the court and city; to these names were added a frivolous and voluptuous personal description of every lady, and to this the name of the French officer which each was supposed to favor. [Footnote: Thiebault, p. 90.]
An outcry of scorn and rage was heard throughout Berlin; every one was excited at the boundless shamelessness of the French officers, and on this occasion the mass of the people took the part of the rich and the distinguished, whom generally they envied and despised. They felt themselves aggrieved by the contempt and ridicule which these Frenchmen had cast upon the daughters of Prussians, and no police force was necessary to tear these placards from the walls; they were torn off and trampled under foot, or torn into a thousand pieces and scattered to the winds. If a Frenchman dared to show himself on the street, he was received with curses and threats, and the police were obliged to forbid them to appear in any public place, as they feared they would not be able to protect them from the fierce indignation of the people. The doors of all the prominent houses, in which heretofore they had received so much attention, were now closed against them. The commandant of Berlin had sent a detailed account of the conduct of the French officers to the king, and the answer had been received.
Eight days after the placards had been pasted up by the Frenchmen, exactly upon the same places new placards were to be found, around which the people were again assembled; on every face was seen a happy smile, from every lip was heard expressions of harmony and approbation. This was a greeting of the king not only to his Berliners, but to Prussia and to the world; he was now "the Great Frederick," and all Europe listened when he spake. Frederick's greeting read thus:
"It is known to all Europe that I have provided every possible comfort to all officers who are prisoners of war. Swedes, Frenchmen, Russians, Austrians I have allowed to pass the time of their captivity at my capital. Many among them have taken advantage of the confidence reposed in them and carried on a forbidden correspondence; they have also, by unmannerly and presumptuous conduct, greatly abused the privileges allowed them; I therefore feel myself constrained to send them to Spandau, which city must not be confounded with the fortress of the same name at Spandau; they will be no more restricted than in Berlin, but they will be more closely watched."
"For this decision I cannot be blamed. The law of nations and the example of my allied enemies justify me fully. The Austrians have not allowed any of my officers who have fallen into their hands to go to Vienna. The Russians have sent their captives to Kasan. My enemies lose no opportunity to give a false aspect to my acts; I have, therefore, thought it wise to make known the causes which lead me to change my policy with regard to the prisoners of war."
Two of the officers, with whom we are acquainted, were not included in this sentence of banishment.
One was Count Belleville. On the day that his comrades, deprived of their swords, left Berlin, his corpse was carried through the outer gate. The shot of Baron Marshal made an amputation necessary, and death was the consequence. While his friends, whose condemnation he had brought about, marched sadly to Spandau, his body was laid in the "Friedhof." To the corpse had been granted a favor denied to the living—his sword was allowed to deck his coffin.
The Austrian officer, Ranuzi, because of his wise and prudent conduct and the powerful support he gave to Baron Marshal, was permitted to remain in Berlin. Ranuzi received this permission with triumphant joy. As he looked from his window at the prisoners marching toward Spandau, he said with a proud smile—"It is written, 'Be wise as a serpent.' These fools have not regarded the words of Holy Writ, and therefore they are punished, while I shall be rewarded. Yes, my work will succeed! God gives me a visible blessing. Patience, then, patience! A day will come when I will take vengeance on this haughty enemy of the Church. On that day the colors of the apostolic majesty of Austria shall be planted on the fortress of Magdeburg!"
CHAPTER X. THE FIVE COURIERS.
It was the morning of the thirteenth of August. The streets of Berlin were quiet and empty. Here and there might be seen a workman with his axe upon his shoulder, or a tradesman stepping slowly to his comptoir. The upper circle of Berlin still slumbered and refreshed itself after the emotions and excitements of yesterday.
Yesterday had been a day of rejoicing; it had brought the news of the great and glorious victory which the crown prince, Ferdinand of Brunswick, had gained at Minden, over the French army under Broglie and Contades.
The crown prince had ever remembered that great moment in the beginning of the war, when his mother took leave of him in the presence of the Brunswick regiments. Embracing him for the last time, she said: "I forbid you to appear before me till you have performed deeds of valor worthy of your birth and your allies!" [Footnote: Bodman.]
Her son, the worthy nephew of Frederick the Great had now bought the right to appear before his mother.
By the victories of Gotsfeld and Minden he had now wiped out the defeat at Bergen, and the laurels which Brissac had won there were now withered and dead.
Berlin had just received this joyful news. After so much sorrow, so much humiliation and disappointment, she might now indulge herself in a day of festal joy, and, by public declarations and testimonials, make known to the world how dear to her heart was this victory of her king and his generals, and how deep and warm was the sympathy she felt.
All work was set aside in honor of this great celebration—the people were spread abroad in the meadows and woods, shouting and rejoicing, playing and dancing; the rich and the distinguished joined them without ceremony, to prove to the world that in such great moments, all differences of rank were forgotten—that they were all members of one body—united in joy and in sorrow by an electric chain.
So they slumbered on; the streets were still empty, the windows still closed.
But see! There comes a horseman through the Frankfort gate, dusty and breathless; his glowing face was radiant with joy! As he dashed through the streets he waved a white handkerchief high in the air, and with a loud and powerful voice, cried out, "Victory! victory!"
This one word had a magic influence. The windows flew up, the doors were dashed open, and shouting and screaming crowds of men rushed after the horseman. At a corner they surrounded his horse and compelled him to stop. "Who is victorious?" cried they tumultuously.
"The king—the great Frederick! He has whipped the Russians at Kunersdorf!"
A cry of rapture burst from every lip. "The king is victorious! he has defeated the Russians!"
Onward flew the courier to the palace; after him streamed the mad people. "The days of mourning are over—the blood of our sons has not been shed in vain, they are the honored dead—their death brought victory to the fatherland; they have drenched the soil with the blood of our barbarous enemies. We whipped the French at Minden, the Russians at Kunersdorf, and now we have defeated the Austrians and won back the trophies of their victory at Hochkirch!"
The people surrounded the castle shouting and triumphing. The courier had entered to give to the queen the joyful news. Soon the royal messengers were flying into every corner of the city to summon the ministers and officers of state to the castle. On foot, on horseback, in carriages, they hastened on, and the people received them with joyful shouts. "The king is victorious; the Russians are defeated!"
And now a door opened on a balcony, and Minister Herzberg stepped out. He waved his hat joyfully high in the air. The people returned this greeting with a roar like an exulting lion. He waved his hand, and the lion ceased to roar—there was death-like silence. He then told them that the king had offered battle to the Russians, yesterday, not far from Frankfort. The Russian army was greatly superior in numbers; they received the Prussians with a fearful, deadly fire! Unrestrainable, regardless of cannon-balls, or of death, the Prussians rushed on, stormed all the strongholds, and drove the Russian militia with fearful slaughter back to the graveyard of Kunersdorf. At five o'clock the king sent off the courier and the victory was assured.
"The victory was assured!" reechoed the mighty voice of the people. With warm and kindly eyes they looked upon each other. Proud, glad, happy, men who did not know each other, who had never met, now felt that they were brothers, the sons of one fatherland, and they clasped hands, and shouted their congratulations.
Suddenly, at the end of the street, another horseman appeared. He drew nearer and nearer. It is a second courier, a second message of our king to his family and his Berliners.
The people looked at him distrustfully, anxiously. What means this second courier? What news does he bring?
His countenance gay, his brow clear, with a flashing smile he greets the people. He brings news of victory—complete, assured victory.
Like the first courier, he dashed on to the castle, to give his dispatches to the queen and the ministers. The people were drunk with joy. The equipages of the nobles rolled by. Every one whose rank gave him the privilege wished to offer his personal congratulations to the queen.
And now in the Konigstrasse was seen a venerable procession. The magistrates of Berlin—in front the burgomasters with their long periwigs and golden chains, behind them the worthy city council—all hastened to the castle to offer congratulations in the name of the city.
The crowd drew back respectfully before the worthy city fathers, and opened a path for them, then fixed their eyes again upon the balcony where Minister Herrberg again appeared, and called for silence.
He will give us the news of the second courier. The victory is absolute. The Russians completely defeated. They had retreated to Kunersdorf. In this village they proposed to defend themselves. But the Prussians were unceasingly pressing upon them. Seven redoubts, Kirchhof, Spitzberg, and one hundred and eighty-six cannon had been taken. The enemy had suffered a monstrous loss, and was in the greatest confusion. The fate of the day seemed conclusive. This was owing to the heroic courage of the army, whom neither the blazing heat of the sun nor the unexampled slaughter could for a moment restrain. At six o'clock, when the king sent off this second courier, the enemy had retreated behind his last intrenchments, and taken refuge at Gudenberg. [Footnote: Frederick the Great.—Thiebault]
A loud hurrah broke from the people as Herzberg finished and left the balcony. Now there was no room for doubt. The enemy was overwhelmed and had fled to his last intrenchment. Would the king leave him unmolested, and would he not still drive the hated enemy further?
While groups of men were assembled here and there, discussing these weighty questions, and others, intoxicated, drunk with joy at this great victory over their hereditary enemy, were making eloquent addresses to the people, a third courier appeared in sight.
Breathless with expectation and anxiety, they would not give him time to reach the castle. They must—they would know the news he brings. There should be no delay, no temporizing, no mysteries. The people were one great family. They awaited the message of their father. They demanded news of their distant sons and brothers.
The third courier brings renewed assurances. The Russians are routed. The king will give them no rest. He will drive them from their last stronghold. With his whole army, with cavalry and militia, with all his cannon, he was in the act of storming Gudenberg. This is the message of the third courier.
The people are proud and happy. No one thinks of going home. In fact, they have no home but the streets. Every house would be too small for this great family which feels a thirst to express its joy and its rapture to each other. And then it was possible the king might send another courier. Who could go home till they knew that the Russians were driven from their last stronghold, that Gudenberg was drenched in Russian blood?
No one doubted that this news would come—must come. Not the slightest fear, the least doubt troubled the proud, pure joy of this hour. The victory was achieved, but it was still charming to hear it confirmed; to receive these heavenly messages. Every open space was filled with men. Each one would see and hear for himself. No man thought himself too distinguished, too sick, too weak, to stand for hours in the burning sun, carried about involuntarily by this fluctuating wave of humanity. Side by side with the laborer stood the elegant lady in her silk robes; near the poor beggar in his ragged jacket were seen the high official and the wealthy banker in their rich dresses.
Move than fifty thousand men were now assembled and waiting—waiting for what they knew not—for news—for a courier who could give the details. It was not enough to know that the king had conquered; they wished to know the extent and the significance of this victory; and lastly, they would know the bloody offering which this victory had cost. The dinner-hour was passed. What cared this happy people for dinner? They hungered for no earthly food; they thirsted for no earthly drink; they were satisfied with the joy of victory. The clock struck three. Yes, there comes a horseman, his bridle is hanging loose—he is covered with dust—but how, what means this? His face is pale as death; his eyes are misty; he looks around shame-faced and confused. No happy news is written upon this dark and clouded brow. What means this messenger of death in the midst of joy, triumph, and proud consciousness of victory? They seek to hold him, to question him, but he gives no answer. He spurs his wearied horse till he springs aloft, and the men in rash terror are crushed against each other; but the horseman makes no sign. Silently he dashes on through the laughing, chatting crowd, but wherever he passes, laughter and smiles disappear, and speech is silenced.
It seemed as if the angel of death had touched his brow, and the happy ones shuddered at his untimely presence. Now he has reached the castle, he descends from his horse. In breathless silence, pallid, trembling they know not why, those who have seen this dumb messenger look up shudderingly to the balcony. At last, after long waiting, the Minister Herzberg appeared once more.
But, O God! what means this? he is pale—his eyes are filled with tears. He opens his mouth to speak, but strength has left him. He holds on to the bars of the balcony, otherwise he would sink. At last he collects himself. It is not necessary to ask for silence; the silence of the grave is upon those torpid men. He speaks! his voice is faint and weak, and trembles—oh, so fearfully! only a few in the first rank can hear his words.
"The battle is lost! The Russians have conquered! The Austrians came to their assistance! The presence of the Austrians was not known, they had their tents in holes in the ground! As our militia rushed upon the last intrenchment at Judenberg and were only a hundred steps distant, Loudon suddenly advanced with his fresh troops, against the worn-out and exhausted victors. He received the Prussians with so murderous a fire, that their ranks faltered, wavered, and, at last, broke loose in wild flight, pursued furiously by the raging enemy. The fortunes of the day had turned; we lost the battle. But all is not lost. The king lives! he is slightly wounded; three horses were shot under him. He lives, and so long as he lives, there is hope. In the far distance, in the midst of the terrible disaster? which have befallen himself and his army, he thinks of his Berliners. He sends you a father's greeting, and exhorts every one of you to save his possessions, as far as possible. Those who do not feel safe in Berlin, and who fear the approaching enemy, the king counsels to withdraw, if possible, with their money, to Magdeburg, where the royal family will take refuge this evening."
The minister was silent, and the people who had listened, dumb with horror, now broke out in wild cries of anguish and despair. Terror was written in every face; tears gushed from every eye. Cries of unspeakable agony burst from those lips, which, a few moments before, were eloquent with hope and gladness.
As if it were impossible to believe in these misfortunes without further confirmation, some men called loudly for the messenger, and the distant crowd, as if inspired with new hope, roared louder and louder:
"The courier! the courier! we will ourselves speak with the courier!"
The demand was so threatening, so continuous, it must be complied with. Herzberg stepped upon the balcony, and informed the crowd that the courier would at once descend to the public square. A breathless silence succeeded; every eye was fixed upon the castle-gate, through which the courier must come. When he appeared, the crowd rushed forward toward him in mad haste. Cries of woe and suffering were heard. The people, with—mad with pain, beside themselves with despair, had no longer any mercy, any pity for each other. They rushed upon the messenger of misfortune, without regarding those who, in the midst of this wild tumult, were cast down, and trodden under foot.
The messenger began his sad story. He repeated all that the minister had said; he told of the deadly strife, of the bloody havoc, of the raging advance of the Austrians, and of the roar for vengeance of the reassured Russians. He told how the cannon-balls of the enemy had stricken down whole ranks of Prussians; that more than twenty thousand dead and wounded Prussians lay upon the battle-field; that all the cannon and all the colors had fallen into the hands of the enemy.
The people received this news with tears, cries, and lamentations. The courier spoke also of the king. He, himself, had belonged to the body-guard of the king—had been ever near him. He had seen the king standing in the midst of the thickest shower of balls, when his two adjutants fell at his side. At last, a ball came and wounded the king's horse—the Vogel—so fearfully, that the brave steed fell. Frederick mounted another horse, but remained upon the same spot; a second ball wounded this horse, and the king quietly mounted that of Captain Gotzen. At this moment, a bullet struck the king in the breast, but the golden etui which the king carried in his pocket, had turned it aside, and thus saved his life. In vain had the generals and adjutants entreated him to leave this place, and think of his personal safety. His answer was—"We must seek, at this point, to win the battle. I must do my duty here with the rest." [Footnote: The king's own words.—See Thiebault, p. 214.]
Many voices cried out—"Where is the king now?"
The courier did not answer; but the question was so fiercely, so stormily repeated, that he was compelled to go on.
"The king, in the midst of the confusion and horror of the flight, had called him, and commanded him to gallop to Berlin, and bear the fatal news to Minister Herzberg. He had then galloped by him, exactly against the enemy, as if he wished their balls to strike him; a little troop of his most faithful soldiers had followed!"
"The king is lost! the king is a prisoner—wounded—perhaps dead!" cried the terrified people.
Suddenly, the mad tumult was interrupted by loud shouts of joy, which swelled and thundered like an avalanche from the other side of the square. A fifth courier had arrived, and brought the news of the complete defeat of the Russians, and a glorious Prussian victory. Now, one of those memorable, wondrous—grand scenes took place, which no earthly phantasy could contrive or prepare, to which only Providence could give form and color. As if driven by the storm-winds of every powerful earthly passion, this great sea of people fluctuated here and there. At one point, thousands were weeping over the news which the unhappy messenger had brought. Near by, thousands were huzzaing and shouting over the joyful intelligence brought by the fifth courier, while those who had been near enough to the fourth courier to understand his words, turned aside to give the sad news to those who were afar off. Coming at the same time from the other side, they were met by a mighty mass of men, who announced, with glad cries, the news of victory, brought by the fifth courier. Here you could see men, with their arms raised to heaven, thanking God for the hardly-won victory. A little farther on, pale, frightened creatures, motionless, bowed down, and grief-stricken. Here were women, with glowing cheeks and sparkling eyes, shouting over their hero king. There, the people wept and moaned; their king had disappeared, was a prisoner, or dead. As at the Tower of Babel, the people spoke in a thousand tongues, and no one listened to another; every one was lost—blinded by his own passionate hopes and fears.
At last the two couriers were called upon to come face to face and decide these important questions. Strong men lifted them upon their shoulders and brought them together; a profound and fearful silence ensued, every man felt that he stood upon the eve of a mighty revelation; fifty thousand men were waiting breathlessly for news of happiness beyond compare, or of unspeakable woe. The conversation of the two horsemen standing upon the shoulders of their townsmen was quick and laconic.
"At what hour did the king send you off?" said the fourth courier to the fifth.
"At six. The king himself commissioned me."
"Where stood our army at that time?" said the fourth courier.
"They stood before the hollow ground, and the Russians had withdrawn to the intrenchments of Zudenberg; we had taken a hundred and twenty cannon, and many of our soldiers were wandering about the battle-field looking at the batteries they had taken." [Footnote: Bodman.]
"Yes," said the fourth courier, sadly, "that was at six, but at seven we were in full flight. Loudon had risen from the ground, and the frightened, conquered Russians had recovered themselves. You left at six, I at eight; I have ridden more rapidly than you. Unhappily, I am right, the battle is lost!"
"The battle is lost!" howled the people; "the king is also lost! Woe! woe!"
At this moment the royal equipages were seen making their way slowly through the crowd, and the advance guard were praying the people to open a way for the travelling carriages to reach the castle. These words excited new alarm. "We are lost! Let us fly, let us fly! The court, the queen, and the princesses flee—let us save ourselves! The Russians will come to Berlin—they will annihilate us. We are deserted and lost, lost!—no one knows where our king is!"
As if driven by madness, the crowds rushed against each other, like the sea when it divides, and in billowy streams pours itself out here and there; and the cry of anguish which now rang out from the castle square, found its echo in every street and every house.
CHAPTER XI. AFTER THE BATTLE.
The cannon were silenced, the discharges of musketry had ceased. On the great plain of Kunersdorf, where, a few hours before, a bloody battle had been raging, all was quiet. Could this be called repose? How cruel was the tranquillity which rested now upon this fearful battle-field!
It was the peace of death—the stillness which the awful messenger of Heaven presses as a sign and seal of his love upon the pale lips of the dead. Happy they whose immortal spirits were quickly wafted away by the dread kiss—they no longer suffer. Woe to those who yet live, though they belong to death, and who lie surrounded by grinning corpses! The cold bodies of their comrades are the pillows upon which they lay their bloody heads. The groans of the dying form the awful melody which awakes them to consciousness; and the, starry sky of this clear, transparent summer night is the only eye of love which bows down to them and looks upon them in their agony.
Happy those whom the murderous sword and the crushing ball carried off in an instant to the land of spirits! Woe, woe to those lying upon the battle-field, living, breathing, conscious of their defeat and of their great agony! Woe! woe! for they hear the sound of the tramping and neighing of horses—they come nearer and nearer. The moon throws the long, dark shadows of those advancing horse-men over the battle-field. It is fearful to see their rash approach; spurring over thousands of pale corpses, not regarding the dying, who breathe out their last piteous sighs under the hoofs of these wild horses.
The Cossack has no pity; he does not shudder or draw back from this monstrous open grave, which has received thousands of men as if they were one great corpse. The Cossack has come to rob and to plunder; he spares neither friend nor foe. He is the heir of the dead and of the dying, and he has come for his inheritance. If he sees a ring sparkling upon the hand of a grinning corpse, he springs from his horse and tears it off. If his greedy, cruel eye rests upon a rich uniform he seizes it, he tears it off from the bleeding, wounded body, no matter whether it is dead or still breathing and rattling.
Look at that warrior who, groaning with anguish, his limbs torn to pieces, bleeding from a thousand wounds, is lying in an open grave; he is wounded to death; he still holds his sword in his left hand—his right arm has been torn off by a cannon-ball, a shot that he might not be trampled upon by the horses' hoofs; they are forced to leave him in the hands of God and to the mercy of man.
But the Cossack knows no mercy. That is a word he has never heard in his Russian home; he has no fear of God before his eyes—he fears the Czar and his captain, and above all other things, he fears the knout. He knows nothing of pity, for it has never been shown him—how then should he exercise it?
When the Cossack saw the Prussian officer in his gold-embroidered uniform, he sprang from his horse and threw the bridle over him, a shrill whistle told the wild steed, the Cossack's better half, that he must stand still. He sprang into the grave where the Prussian warrior, the German poet, was laid to rest. Yes, a great German poet lies there—a poet by the grace of God. All Germany knows him, "their songster of the spring." All Germany had read and been inspired by his lays. The Austrian and the Saxon considered the Prussian Major Ewald von Kleist their enemy, but they loved and admired the poet, Ewald von Kleist. The people are never enemies to poesy, and even politics are silent before her melodious voice.
There he lies, the gallant warrior, the inspired, noble poet; his broken eyes are turned to heaven; his blue, cold lips are opened and wearily stammering a few disconnected words. Perhaps he thinks in this last hour of the last words of his last poem. Perhaps his stiffening lips murmured these words which his mangled hand had written just before the battle:
"Death for one's fatherland is ever honorable. How gladly will I die that noble death When my destiny calls!"
Yes, death might have been beautiful, but fate is never propitious to German poets. It would have been noble and sweet to die in the wild tumult of battle, under the sound of trumpets, amid the shouts of victory; sweet thus, with a smile upon the lip to yield up the immortal spirit.
Ewald von Kleist, the German poet, received his death-wound upon the field of battle, but he did not die there; he lives, he knows that the battle is lost, that his blood has been shed in vain. The Cossack has come down into his grave—with greedy eyes he gazes at the rich booty. This bleeding, mangled body—this is to the Cossack not a man, it is only a uniform which is his; with hands trembling with greed he tears it from the quivering, bleeding form. What to him is the death-rattle and the blood—even the bloody shirt dying frame. [Footnote: "History of the Seven Years' War."—Thiebault, 363.] The Prussian warrior, the German poet, lay there naked, his own blood alone covered his wounded body, wrapped it in a purple mantle, worthy of the poet's crown with which his countrymen had decked his brow.
But Ewald von Kleist is no longer a poet or a hero—he is a poor, suffering, tortured child of earth; he lies on the damp ground, he pleads for a few rags to cover his wounds, into which the muddy water of the hole in which he lies is rushing.
And now fate seems favorable. A Russian officer is riding by—he takes pity on the naked man with the gaping wounds; he throws him a soldier's old mantle, a piece of bread, and a half gulden. [Footnote: "Seven Years' War," 353.] The German poet receives the alms of the Russian thankfully—he covers himself with the cloak, he tries to eat the bread.
But destiny is never propitious to German poets. The Cossacks swarm again upon the battle-field, and again they approach the groaning warrior in the open grave; he has no longer a glittering uniform, but the Cossack takes all; the poor old mantle excites his greed—he tears it from the unresisting soldier; he opens his hands and takes out the half gulden which Ewald von Kleist had received from the Russian hussar.
Again he lies naked, again the muddy water forces into his wounds, and adds cruel torture to the agonies of death. So lies he till the next day, till the enemy takes pity upon him and carries him as a prisoner to Frankfort. [Footnote: Ewald von Kleist died a few days after this, on the 24th of August. The Russians gave him an honorable burial; and as there was no sword upon his coffin, Captain Bulow, chief of the Russian dragoons, took his own from his side and placed it upon the bier, saying, "So worthy an officer shall not be buried without every mark of honor."—Archenholtz, 262.]
Happy those who meet with sudden death. It is true all the living did not share the cruel fate of Ewald von Kleist, but all those thousands who were borne wounded and bleeding from the battle-field were conscious of their sufferings and their defeat.
The little village of Octshef near the battle-field was a hospital. During the battle all the inhabitants had fled. The wounded had taken possession of the huts and the surgeons were hastening from house to house giving relief where it was possible. No one entered into those two little huts which lay at the other end of the village, somewhat separated from the others. And yet those huts contained two wounded men. They had been brought here during the battle—the surgeon had examined their wounds and gone out silently, never to return. Groaning from time to time, these two wounded men lay upon the straw, their eyes fixed upon the door, longing for the surgeon to bring them help, or at least alleviation.
And now the door was indeed opened, and an officer entered. Was it the obscurity of twilight, or had blood and pain blinded the eyes of the wounded men so that, they could not recognize the stranger? It was true his noble and generally cheerful face was now grave and stern, his cheeks were ashy pale, and his great, flashing eyes were dim; but there was still something inexpressibly majestic and commanding in his appearance—though defeated and cast down, he was still a hero, a king—Frederick the Great!
Frederick had come to take up his quarters in this lonely hut, to be alone in his great grief; but when he saw the two wounded men, his expression changed to one of earnest sympathy. With hasty steps he drew near to the two officers, bowed over and questioned them kindly. They recognized his voice—that voice which had so often inspired them to bold deeds in the wild whirl of battle, but whose tones were now mild and sympathetic.
"The king!" cried both in joyful surprise, and forgetting their wounds and helplessness, they strove to rise, but sank back with hollow groans, with the blood streaming anew from their wounds.
"Poor children," said Frederick, "you are badly wounded."
"Yes," groaned Lieutenant von Grabow, "badly wounded, but that is of small consequence, if, your majesty, we only knew that we had gained the day. We had taken two redoubts, and were storming the third, when this misfortune befell us. Tell us, your majesty, is it not true? Is not the victory ours?"
A dark shadow passed over the face of the king, but soon disappeared.
"You must now think only of yourselves. You have proved that you are brave—the rest is accident or fate. Do not despond, all will be well. Have your wounds been dressed? Have you been fed?"
"Ah, sire, no devil will dress our wounds," groaned Lieutenant von Hubenfall.
"How," cried the king, "have they left you here without care and assistance?"
"Yes, sire, there is no earthly hope for us."
The king was about to answer, when several people, bearing hand-barrows, accompanied by a surgeon, entered.
"What do you wish?" said the king, angrily.
"Sire," answered the surgeon, "we will remove the wounded, as your majesty will make your night-quarters here."
The king threw a scornful glance upon them.
"And you suppose that I will allow this? The wounded men remain here. I will seek shelter elsewhere. But, above all things, examine the wounds of these two officers at once, and dress them."
The surgeon advanced, and examined them carefully, then drew near the king.
"Your majesty," said he, shrugging his shoulders, "it would be all in vain. A cannon-ball has torn off the right arm of one of these men, and he must die of gangrene. The other has a cartridge-load of iron in his face and in his body. It is impossible to bind up these wounds."
The king did not answer him. He stepped hastily to the straw-bed, and took both the wounded men by the hand. Then, turning to the surgeon, he said—
"Look, now, these two men are young and powerful—they have no fever. With such young blood and fresh hearts Nature often does wonders. Dress them, and bind up their wounds, and, above all things, see that they have nourishment—they have need of it."
"Ah, yes, your majesty; we have been hungry and thirsty a long time," said Grabow.
The king smiled. "See, now, you think they are lost, and yet they have healthy stomachs; so long as a man is hungry he will not die."
The surgeon opened his case of instruments and commenced to dress the wounds. The king watched him for a long time, then stooped down and said, tenderly, "Children, do not despair; I will learn how it goes with you, and if you are no longer fit for service, I will take care of you. Believe that I will not forget you." He bowed kindly and left the room. His adjutants were awaiting him at the door of the tent. [Footnote: The king's own words. The whole scene is historical. These two officers, whom the king saved in this way from death, recovered rapidly. After they were completely restored, they again took part in the contest, and were again severely wounded at Kolberg. They served until peace was declared, and then retired on the invalid list, and, by the express order of the king, were most kindly cared for.—See Nicolai.] The king signed to them to follow him, and stepping rapidly through the village, he passed by the huts from which loud cries of anguish and low murmurs were heard.
"Ah," cried Frederick, "Dante did not know all the horrors of hell, or he forgot to paint those I now suffer." He hastened on—on—on, in the obscure twilight of the summer night, pursued by the sighs and groans of his dying and wounded soldiers; a deep, immeasurable sadness lay upon his brow; his lips were trembling; cold perspiration stood upon his forehead; his eyes wandered over the battle-field, then were raised to heaven with a questioning and reproachful expression. Already the village lay far behind him; but he hurried on, he had no aim, no object; he wished only to escape this hell, this cry of despair and woe from the condemned. An adjutant dared at last to step forward and awake him from his sad mood.
"Sire," said he, "the Cossacks are swarming in every direction, and if your majesty goes on, the most fearful results may be anticipated. The Cossacks shoot at every man who wears a good coat."
The king shook his head sadly. "There is no ball for me," said he in a low tone; "I have in vain called upon death. I have prayed in mercy for a ball; it came, but it only grazed my breast. No, no—there is no ball for me!" He advanced, and the adjutant dared once more to interrupt him.
"Sire," said he, "will not your majesty seek night-quarters?"
Frederick raised his head, and was in the act of answering hastily, then said: "Yes, I need night-quarters." He looked around and saw an empty peasant's house by the wayside, drew near and entered silently.
CHAPTER XII. A HEROIC SOUL.
"I will pass the night here," said he, "the place appears deserted; we will disturb no one."
The king was right. The miserable old hut was empty. No one advanced to meet him as he entered. In one corner of the room there was some dirty straw; in the other a wooden table and stool—this was all.
"It suffices for me," said the king, smiling. "I will pass the night here. Have you my writing materials with you?"
"I sent Adjutant von Goltz for them, sire, as I did not wish to leave you alone."
Goltz now entered with the king's portfolio, and informed him that he had brought two grenadiers to guard the house.
"Have I still grenadiers?" murmured the king, in a trembling voice. His head fell upon his breast, and he stood thus lost in deep thought for a while. "Gentlemen," said he, at length, "inspect the house. See if there is a more comfortable room than this; if not, I suppose we can manage to sleep here. Send one of the guard for some soldiers, by whom I can forward my dispatches."
The adjutants bowed, and left the room. The king was alone. He could at last give way to his despair—his grief.
"All, all is lost!" murmured the king, and a voice within him answered: "When all is lost, there is no escape but death! It is unworthy to continue a life without fame, without glory. The grave alone is a resting-place for the broken-hearted, humiliated man!"
The king listened attentively to this voice. He had borne with patience the sorrows and deprivations of the past years, but he could not survive the ruin of his country. His country was lost. There was no chance of saving it; his army was gone. The victorious enemy had taken all the neighboring provinces. The Russians could now march undisturbed to Berlin. They would find no resistance, for the garrison there consisted of invalids and cripples.
Berlin was lost! Prussia was lost! The king was resolved to die, for he was a king without a crown, a hero without laurels. He wished to die, for he could not survive the destruction of his country. But first he must arrange his affairs, make his will, and bid adieu to his friends. The king opened the door hastily, and desired that a light should be brought—it was no easy thing to procure in this dismal, deserted village. The adjutant succeeded at last, however, in getting a few small tallow candles, and placing them in old bottles, in the absence of candlesticks of any description, he carried them to the king. Frederick did not observe him; he stood at the open window, gazing earnestly at the starry firmament. The bright light aroused him; he turned, and approached the table.
"My last letters!" murmured he, sinking upon the wooden stool, and opening his portfolio.
How his enemies would have rejoiced, could they have seen him in that wretched hovel! He first wrote to General Fink, to whom he wished to leave the command of his army. He must fulfil the duties of state, before those of friendship. It was not a letter—rather an order to General Fink, and read as follows:
"General Fink will find this a weary and tedious commission. The army I leave is no longer in a condition to defend itself from the Russians. Haddeck will hasten to Berlin. Loudon also, I presume. If you intercept them, the Russians will be in your rear; if you remain by the Oder, Haddeck will surround you. I nevertheless believe, were Loudon to come to Berlin, you could attack and defeat him. This, were it possible, would give you time to arrange matters, and I can assure you, time is every thing, in such desperate circumstances as ours. Koper, my secretary, will give you the dispatches from Torgau and Dresden. You must acquaint my brother, whom I make general-in-chief of the army, with all that passes. In the mean time, his orders must be obeyed. The army must swear by my nephew. This is the only advice I am able to give. Had I any resources, I would stand fast by you. FREDERICK." [Footnote: The king's own words.]
"Yes, I would have stood by them," murmured the king, as he folded and addressed his letter. "I would have borne still longer this life of oppression and privation; but now, honor demands that I should die."
He took another sheet of paper. It was now no order or command, but a tender, loving, farewell letter to his friend, General Finkenstein.
"This morning, at eleven o'clock, I attacked the enemy; we drove them back to Gudenberg. All my men performed deeds of daring and bravery, but, at the storming of Gudenberg, a terrific number of lives were lost. My army became separated. I reassembled them three times, but in vain. At last, they fled in wild disorder. I very nearly became a prisoner, and was obliged to leave the field to the enemy. My uniform was torn by the cannon-balls, two horses were shot underneath me, but death shunned me; I seemed to bear a charmed life; I could not die! From an army of forty-eight thousand men, there now remains three thousand. The consequences of this battle will be more fearful than the battle itself. It is a terrible misfortune, and I will not survive it. There is no one to whom I can look for help. I cannot survive my country's ruin. Farewell!"
"And now," said the king, when he had sealed and directed his letter, "now I am ready; my worldly affairs are settled. I am at the end of my sufferings, and dare claim that last, deep rest granted by Nature to us all. I have worked enough, suffered enough; and if, after a life of stormy disasters, I seek my grave, no one can say it was cowardly not to live—for all the weight of life rolled upon me, forced me to the ground, and the grave opened beneath my feet. I continued to hope, when overwhelmed with defeat at every point. Every morning brought new clouds, new sorrows. I bore it courageously, trusting that misfortune would soon weary, the storms blow over, and a clear, cloudless sky envelop me. I deceived myself greatly; my sorrows increased. And now, the worst has happened; my country is lost! Who dares say I should survive this loss? To die at the proper time is also a duty. The Romans felt this, and acted upon it. I am a true scholar of the old masters, and wish to prove myself worthy of them. When all is lost, the liberty to die should not be denied. The world has nothing more to do with me, and I laugh at her weak, unjust laws. Like Tiberius, will I live and die! Farewell, then, thou false existence; farewell, weak man! Ah! there are so many fools—so few men amongst you; I have found so many faithless friends, so many traitors, so few honest men! In the hour of misfortune they all deserted me! But, no!" said he; "one remained true. D'Argens never deceived me, and I had almost forgotten to take leave of him. Well, death must wait for me, while I write to D'Argens!"
A heavenly inspiration now beamed on his countenance; his eyes shone like stars. The holy muse had descended to comfort the despairing hero, to whisper loving and precious words to him. Thus standing at death's portals, Frederick wrote his most beautiful poem, called "Ami le sort en est jete'." A great wail of woe burst from his soul. The sorrows, the grievances hid until now from all, he portrayed in touching, beautiful words to his absent friend. He pictured to him his sufferings, his hopes, his struggles, and finally, his determination to die. When all this had been painted in the most glowing colors, when his wounds were laid bare, he wrote a last and touching farewell to his friend:
"Adieu, D'Argens! dans ce tableau, De mon trepas tu vois la cause; Au moins ne pense pas du neant du caveau, Que j'aspire a l'apotheose. Tout ce que l'amitie par ces vers propose, C'est que tant qu'ici-bas le celeste flambeau; Eclairera tes jours tandis que je repose, Et lorsque le printemps paraissant de nouveau. De son sein abondant t'offre les fleurs ecloses, Chaque fois d'un bouquet de myrthes et de roses, Tu daignes parer mon tombeau."
[Footnote: "Adieu, D'Argens! In this picture Thou wilt see the cause of my death; At least, do not think, a nothing in the vault, That I aspire to apotheosis. All that friendship by these lines proposes Is only this much, that here the celestial torch May clear thy days while I repose, And each time when the Spring appears anew And from her abundant breast offers thee the flowers there enclosed That thou with a bouquet of myrtle and rose Wilt deign to decorate my tomb."]
"Ah!" murmured the king, as he folded and addressed his poetical letter, "how lovely it must now be at Sans-Souci! Well, well! my grave shall be there, and D'Argens will cover it with flowers. And have I no other friends at Sans-Souci? My good old hounds, my crippled soldiers! They cannot come to me, but I will go to them."
The king then arose, opened the door, and asked if a messenger was in readiness; receiving an answer in the affirmative, he gave the three letters to the adjutant. "And now my work is finished," said he, "now I can die." He took from his breast-pocket a small casket of gold which he always carried with him, and which, in the late battle, had served him as a shield against the enemy's balls. The lid had been hollowed in by a ball; strange to say, this casket, which had saved his life, was now to cause his death. For within it there was a small vial containing three pills of the most deadly poison, which the king had kept with him since the beginning of the war. The king looked at the casket thoughtfully. "Death here fought against death; and still how glorious it would have been to die upon the battle-field believing myself the victor!" He held the vial up to the light and shook it; and as the pills bounded up and down, he said, smiling sadly, "Death is merry! It comes eagerly to invite me to the dance. Well, well, my gay cavalier, I am ready for the dance."
He opened the vial and emptied the pills into his hand. Then arose and approached the window to see once more the sky with its glittering stars and its brightly-beaming moon, and the battle-field upon which thousands of his subjects had this day found their death. Then raised the hand with the pills. What was it that caused him to hesitate? Why did his hand fall slowly down? What were his eyes so intently gazing on?
The king was not gazing at the sky, the stars, or the moon; but far off into the distance, at the Austrian camp-fires. There were the conquerors, there was Soltikow and Loudon with their armies. The king had observed these fires before entering the hut, but their number had now increased, a sign that the enemy had not advanced, but was resting. How? Was it possible that the enemy, not taking advantage of their victory, was not following the conquered troops, but giving them time to rally, to outmarch them, perhaps time to reach the Spree, perhaps Berlin?
"If this is so," said the king, answering his own thoughts, "if the enemy neglects to give me the finishing-blow, all is not lost. If there is a chance of salvation for my country, I must not die; she needs me, and it is, my duty to do all in my power to retrieve the past."
He looked again at the camp-fires, and a bright smile played about his lips.
"If those fires speak aright," said he, "my enemies are more generous—or more stupid—than I thought, and many advantages may still be derived from this lost battle. If so, I must return to my old motto that 'life is a duty.' And so long as good, honorable work is to be done, man has no right to seek the lazy rest of the grave. I must ascertain at once if my suspicions are correct. Death may wait awhile. As long as there is a necessity for living, I cannot die."
He returned the pills to the vial and hid the casket in its former resting-place. Then passing hastily through the room, he opened the door. The two adjutants were sitting upon the wooden bench in front of the hut; both were asleep. The grenadiers were pacing with even tread up and down before the house; deep quiet prevailed. The king stood at the door looking in amazement at the glorious scene before him. He inhaled with delight the soft summer air; never had it seemed to him so balmy, so full of strengthening power, and he acknowledged that never had the stars, the moon, the sky looked as beautiful. With lively joy he felt the night-wind toying with his hair. The king would not tire of all this; it seemed to him as if a friend, dead long since, mourned and bewailed, had suddenly appeared to him beaming with health, and as if he must open his arms and say, "Welcome, thou returned one. Fate separated us; but now, as we have met, we will never leave one another, but cling together through life and death, through good and evil report."
Life was the friend that appeared to Frederick, and he now felt his great love for it. Raising his eyes in a sort of ecstasy to the sky, he murmured, "I swear not to seek death unless at the last extremity, if, when made a prisoner, I cannot escape. I swear to live, to suffer, so long as I am free."
He had assumed the harness of life, and was determined to battle bravely with it.
CHAPTER XIII. THE TWO GRENADIERS.
Smiling, and with elastic step, the king advanced to meet the two grenadiers, who stood rooted to the spot as he approached them. "Grenadiers," said he, "why are you not with your comrades?"
"Our comrades fled," said one.
"It is dishonorable to fly," said the other.
The king was startled. These voices were familiar, he had surely heard them before.
"I ought to know you," said he, "this is not the first time we have spoken together. What is your name, my son?"
"Fritz Kober is my name," said the grenadier.
"Charles Henry Buschman," said the other.
"You are not mistaken, sir king! we have met and spoken before, but it was on a better night than this."
"Where was it?" said the king.
"The night before the great, the glorious battle of Leuthen," said Fritz Kober, gravely; "at that time, sir king, you sat at our tent-fire and ate dumplings with us. Charles Henry knows how to cook them so beautifully!"
"Ah! I remember," said the king; "you made me pay my share of the costs."
"And you did so, like a true king," said Fritz Kober. "Afterward you came back to our tent-fire, and Charles Henry Buschman told you fairy tales, nobody can do that so beautifully as Charles Henry, and you slept refreshingly throughout."
"No, no, grenadier," said the king, "I did not sleep, and I can tell you to-day all that Charles Henry related."
"Well, what was it?" said Fritz Kober, with great delight.
The king reflected a moment, and then said, in a soft voice:
"He told of a king who was so fondly loved by a beautiful fairy, that she changed herself into a sword when the king went to war and helped him to defeat his enemies! Is that it. Fritz Kober?"
"Nearly so, sir king; I wish you had such a fairy at your side to-day."
"Still, Fritz," whispered Charles Henry Buschman, "our king does not need the help of a fairy; our king can maintain his own cause, and God is with his sword."
"Do you truly believe that, my son?" said the king, deeply moved. "Have you still this great confidence in me? Do you still believe that I can sustain myself and that God is with me?"
"We have this confidence, and we will never lose it!" cried Charles Henry, quickly. "Our enemies over there have no Frederick to lead them on, no commander-in-chief to share with them hunger and thirst, and danger and fatigue; therefore they cannot love their leaders as we do ours."
"And then," said Fritz Kober, thoughtfully, "I am always thinking that this war is like a battle of the cats and hounds. Sometimes it looks as if the little cats would get the better of the great bulldogs; they have sharp claws, and scratch the dogs in the face till they can neither see nor hear, and must for a while give way; they go off, however, give themselves a good shake, and open their eyes, and spring forward as great and strong and full of courage as ever; they seize upon the poor cats in the nape of the neck and bite them deadly with their strong, powerful teeth. What care they if the cats do scratch in the mean while? No, no, sir king, the cats cannot hold out to the end; claws are neither so strong nor so lasting as teeth."
"Yes," said the king, laughing, "but how do you know but our foes over there are the hounds and we are the little cats?"
"What!" cried Fritz Kober, amazed, "we shall be the cats? No, no, sir king, we are the great hounds."
"But how can you prove this?"
"How shall I prove it?" said Fritz Kober, somewhat embarrassed. After a short pause, he cried out, gayly, "I have it—I will prove it. Those over there are the cats because they are Russians and Austrians, and do not serve a king as we do; they have only two empresses, two women. Now, sir king, am I not right? Women and cats, are they not alike? So those over there are the cats and we are the bull dogs!"