"But you shall not witness it," said the prior, resolutely. "You shall no longer be a spectator of the unworthy and shameful conduct of my monks. I pray you to withdraw instantly; in a few hours I will send you the letters, and if you believe that I have rendered you the least service, I ask in return that you will tell no one what you have seen."
"I promise, your worship," said Cocceji, with forced gravity. "If the people without shall ask me what all this tumult means, I will say that the pious fathers in the cloister are singing their 'floras.'" [Footnote: Baron Cocceji did not keep his word, as this whole scene is historic.]
Baron Cocceji bowed to the prior, and returned with gay and hopeful thoughts to the hotel of the "White Lion."
A few hours later, a monk appeared and desired to speak with the stranger about the holy relics.
Cocceji recognized in him the worthy Father Anselmo, the victor over the father guardian.
"Will you do me a great pleasure, worthy father?" said he. "Tell me which party remained in possession of the field after your great battle."
An expression of triumphant joy flashed in Father Anselmo's eyes.
"The Prussiani were victorious, and I think the Teresiani will never dare to recommence the strife; four of their monks lie in their cells with broken noses, and it will be some weeks before the father guardian will be capable of performing his duties as spy; he is sore and stiff, and his mouth is poorer by a few teeth. May all the enemies of the great Frederick share his fate! May God bless the King of Prussia and be gracious to his friends!"
He greeted the baron with the sign of the cross, and withdrew.
The baron remembered the warning of the prior, and hastened quietly from Venice. Already the next morning he was on the highway to Turin. [Footnote: This diplomatic mission failed, because of the faint heart of the King of Sardinia. He rejected the bold propositions of Frederick entirely, and said, in justification of himself, that since the alliance between the powers of France and Austria, he had his head between a pair of tongs, which were ever threatening to close and crush him. Baron Cocceji was not more fortunate in Naples, and after many vain efforts he was forced to return home, having accomplished nothing.—Duten's "Memoirs of a Traveller."]
CHAPTER IV. THE RETURN FROM THE ARMY.
It was a sunny, summer day-one of those days which incline the heart to prayer, and bring tears of happiness to the eyes. There are no such days in cities; if we would enjoy them we must go into the country—we must seek them in peaceful valleys, in fragrant forests, where the silence is unbroken, except by the fluttering leaves and the singing of birds. We must understand the eloquent silence of Nature in order to enjoy the holy Sabbath quiet of a summer day; and we must be able to hear the language which the flowers breathe forth, to understand the sighing of the wind, and the rustling of the trees.
Very few can do this, but few would care for it. God has not opened the eyes of the hearts of many of us to this extent; these things are hidden by a thick veil from the many; they cannot see the heavenly beauty of Nature—they do not understand the fairy tale which she is ever telling. This is gentle, idyllic, fairy lore, unsought by the learned. It whispers of roses, of dancing elves, of weeping clouds, of dreaming violets.
Happy are those who listen to these fables, who are not called by the necessities of life to hear the roar of cannon—to find all these sweet and holy songs overpowered by the noise of war, the horrors of bloodshed!
War, destructive war, still held a lighted torch over unhappy Germany; cities and villages were in ruins—even the peace of Nature was destroyed. The valleys, usually so quiet, now often resounded with the roar of cannon. The fields remained uncultivated, the meadows uncared for; there were no strong hands to work. The men and youths were gone, only the old graybeards and the women were in the villages, and the work advanced but slowly under their trembling hands. Unhappiness and want, care and sorrow were in the land.
Even in the once peaceful and happy village of Brunen on the Rhine, misery had made itself felt. Grief and anguish dwelt with the bereaved mothers, with the forsaken brides, and the weak old men; with the useless cripples, who had returned from the war, and who spent their time in relating the dangers through which they had passed, in telling of the sons, the brothers, the husbands, and the fathers of those who listened to their tales—those dear ones who were, perhaps, now stretched upon the battle-field.
But on this bright day no one in the village gave a thought to the beauties of Nature, for a new misfortune weighed heavily upon the hearts of the unhappy inhabitants. They were no longer the subjects of the hero-king, who was so worshipped by all; under whose colors their fathers and sons still fought. The French army, led by the Duke de Broglie and the Count de St Germain, had taken possession of all that part of the country, and held it in the name of their king. It was declared a French province, and the inhabitants, helpless and forsaken, were compelled to acknowledge the French as their masters, and to meet the taxes which were imposed upon them.
It was a most bitter necessity, and no one felt it more deeply than the old shepherd Buschman, the father of Charles Henry. He sat, as we first saw him, on the slope of the field where his flock was grazing, guarded and kept in order by the faithful Phylax. His eye was not clear and bright as then, but troubled and sorrowful, and his countenance bore an expression of the deepest grief. He had no one to whom he could pour forth his sorrows—no one to comfort him—he was quite alone Even his youngest son, Charles Henry, the real Charles Henry, had been compelled to leave him. The recruiting officers of the king had come a short time before the French troops had taken possession of the province, and had conscripted the few strong men who were still left in the village of Brunen.
But this time the men of Brunen had not answered joyfully to the demand. Even old Buschman had wished to keep his son Charles Henry with him. Had he not sent six sons to the field of battle, and had they not all died as heroes? Charles Henry was his last treasure, his one remaining child; his grief-torn heart clung to him with the deepest devotion. To be parted from him seemed more bitter than death itself. When the recruiting officer came into the hut of Buschman and summoned Charles Henry to follow him as a soldier, the eyes of the old man filled with tears, and he laid his hands upon the arm of his son as if he feared to see him instantly torn from his sight.
"Captain," he said, with a trembling voice, "I have sent the king six sons already; they have all died in his service. Tell me truly, is the king in great need? If so, take me as well as my son—if not, leave me my son."
The officer smiled, and extended his hand to the old man. "Keep your son," he said. "If you have lost six sons in the war, it is right that you should keep the seventh."
Buschman uttered a cry of joy, and would have embraced his son, but Charles Henry pushed him gently back, and his father read in his countenance a determination and energy that he had rarely seen there.
"No, father," he said, "let me go—let me be a soldier as my brothers were. I should have gone four years ago, when I was prevented, and Anna Sophia—Ah, let me be a soldier, father," he said, interrupting himself. "All the young men of the village are going, and I am ashamed to remain at home."
The old man bent his head sadly. "Go then, my son," he said; "God's blessing rest upon you!"
Thus Charles Henry went; not from a feeling of enthusiasm for the life of a soldier—not from love to his king—but merely because he was ashamed to remain at home.
He had now been absent several months, and his father had not heard from him. But the news of the lately lost battle had reached the village, and it was said that the Prince Royal of Brunswick, in whose corps Charles Henry was, had been defeated. The old shepherd remembered this as he sat in the meadow this bright summer morning. His thoughts were with his distant son, and when he raised his eyes to heaven it was not to admire its dazzling blue, or its immeasurable depth, but to pray to the Almighty to spare his son. The peaceful tranquillity of Nature alarmed the old man—she speaks alone to those who have an ear attuned to her voice—she says nothing to those who listen with a divided heart. Buschman could endure it no longer; he arose and started toward the village. He longed to see some human being—to encounter some look of love—to receive sympathy from some one who understood his grief, who suffered as he did, and who did not wear the eternal smile that Nature wore.
He went to the village, therefore, and left the care of his flock to Phylax. It comforted his heart as he passed through the principal street of Brunen and received kind greetings from every hut he passed. He felt consoled and almost happy when here and there the peasants hurried toward him as he passed their huts, and begged him to come in and join them at their simple mid-day meal, and were quite hurt when he refused because his own dinner was prepared for him at home. These men loved him—they pitied his loneliness—they told him of their own cares, their own fears—and as he endeavored to console and encourage them, he felt his strength increase—he was more hopeful, more able to bear whatever God might send.
"We must be united in love," said Buschman; "we will help each other to bear the sorrows that may come upon us. To-morrow is Sunday; in the morning we will go to the house of God, and after we have whispered to Him the prayers which He alone must hear, we will assemble together under the linden-tree in the square and talk of the old times and those who have left us. Do you not remember that it was under the linden-tree we heard of the first victory that our king gained in this fearful war? It was there that Anna Sophia Detzloff read the news to us, and we rejoiced over the battle of Losovitz, And I also rejoiced and thanked God, although the victory had cost me the lives of two of my sons. But they perished as heroes. I could glory in such a death; and Anna Sophia read their praises from the paper. Ah, if Anna lived, I would at least have a daughter."
He could speak no more, emotion arrested the words on his lips; he bowed to his friends and passed on to his lonely hut. His little table was spread, and the young girl who served him, and who slept in his hut at night, was just placing a dish of steaming potatoes before his plate. The old man sat down to his solitary meal; he ate only to sustain his body; his thoughts were far away; he took no pleasure in his food. In the middle of his meal he started up; a shadow had fallen across the window, and two loving, well-known eyes had seemed to look in on him. Buschman, as if paralyzed with delight, let fall his spoon and looked toward the door. Yes, the bolt moved, the door opened, and there stood the tall figure of a Prussian soldier.
The old man uttered a cry and extended his arms. "Oh, my son, my beloved son, do I indeed see you once more?"
"Yes, father, I am here; and God willing, we will never again be parted." And Charles Henry hastened to the outstretched arms of his father, and kissing him tenderly, pressed him to his heart.
"The thought of you, dear father, has led me here," he said; "but for you I would not have returned to Brunen; I should have wandered forth into the world—the world which is so much greater and more beautiful than I ever dreamed. But your dear old eyes were before me; I heard your loved voice, which called to me, and I returned to you."
"God be praised!" said his father, folding his hands, and raising his eyes gratefully toward heaven. "Oh how kind and merciful is God, to give me back my last, my only son, the support of my old age, the delight of my eyes! You will not leave me again. This is not merely a leave of absence; you have obtained your release, the war is ended, the king has declared peace."
The eyes of the old man were dimmed with tears; he did not perceive how Charles Henry trembled, and that a deep flush mounted to his brow.
"No, father," he said, with downcast eyes, "I will never leave you again. We have all returned home. It will be bright and gay once more in the village, and the work will go forward, for there is a great difference between a dozen old men and as many young ones. It was most needful for us to return. The corn is ripe, and should have been already gathered. We must go to work. To-morrow shall be a happy day for the village; the whole neighborhood shall perceive that the twelve young men of Brunen have returned. We met a violinist on the way, and we engaged him for to-morrow. He must play for us under the linden tree, and our fathers and mothers, and sisters and sweethearts must join us, and we will dance and sing and make merry."
"What a coincidence!" said the old shepherd, with a bright smile. "We had already decided that we would meet together tomorrow under the linden. We wished to sit there and mourn together over our lost sons. To sing and dance is much better, and perhaps the old grayheads will join you."
"You must dance with me, father," said Charles Henry, laughing. "I will take no refusal."
"I will, my son, I will; joy has made me young again, and if Phylax, the old graybeard, does not mind, and will allow me, I will dance with you, but you know he is always jealous of you. I am sure the whole village will envy you your gay young partner. But now, my son," he continued gravely, "tell me of our king, and how is it that he has declared peace so suddenly, and whether he has been victorious or the reverse."
"I know nothing of the king," said Charles Henry; "I was not near him, but in the division of the Duke of Brunswick."
"I know that, my son; but the duke would not proclaim peace without the knowledge and consent of the king."
"Oh, father, they will compel the king to make peace," cried Charles Henry. "And as for the Duke of Brunswick, he has given up the attack against Wesel and has withdrawn to Westphalia, and the French are in possession of the entire lowlands, which, it is to be hoped, they will retain."
"You hope that?" asked his father, with astonishment.
"Well, yes, father. The French king is now, and perhaps will always be, the lord of Cleve; and, as his subjects, we must wish him success, and hope that he will always conquer the King of Prussia."
"What do you say, my son?" asked the old man, with a bewildered expression. "I fear you are right. The French are our masters now, and, as our king has declared peace with France, we have the unhappiness of being French subjects. May God protect us from such a fate! It would be fearful if we dared not call the great hero—king our king, and, if we should live to see the day when our sons should be compelled, as French soldiers, to go to battle against their king. Only think, Charles Henry, you would not be allowed to wear your fine Prussian uniform on Sundays, and it is so becoming to you, and is as good as new. But how is it, my son, that they have left you the uniform? They are usually taken from the released soldiers and put amongst the army stores."
"We all came home in our Prussian uniforms," said Charles Henry, "but of course we will lay them aside to-day."
"Because we are French subjects, and therefore it is not proper for us to wear the uniform of the enemy, the King of Prussia. That is also the reason why we have returned home. When we learned that Cleve had fallen into the possession of the French, we knew that we were no longer the subjects of the King of Prussia, and we dared not fight under his flag against the French, whose subjects we had become. We considered that, and we thought how much it would injure you all here in Brunen if it were known that your sons were in the army of the Prussian king. Principally on that account we determined to return home, and we left our regiment yesterday morning, which was on the point of marching off to Minden, and we walked the entire day and half the night. We slept a few hours in a forest, and at the break of day we recommenced our journey. And now, father, that I have seen you, and you know every thing, I will go to my room and take off this uniform, and become a peasant once more." He sought to leave the room hastily, for the amazed, horror-struck expression of his father was most disagreeable to him.
But Buschman placed his hand so heavily upon his son's arm that he was compelled to remain. "Say it is a jest, Charles," he cried, in an excited voice. "It is not possible for my son, the brother of my six hero-boys, to speak thus! It is merely a jest, Charles. You wished to joke with your old father. It is not true that you have deserted the flag of our king; put an end to this cruel jest, Charles Henry, and show me your leave of absence which every honest soldier obtains before leaving his regiment. Do you hear, Charles Henry? Show it to me quickly." He extended his trembling hand toward his son, while with the other he still held his arm in a powerful grasp.
"Father," said Charles Henry, fiercely, "I have no such paper. It is as I told you; we have left the Prussian army because we are no longer the subjects of the King of Prussia, and it is not necessary for us to remain in the service. We wish to become peasants once more."
"You lie! you lie!" cried his father. "You are no deserter—it is impossible that my son should be a deserter."
"No, father, I am no deserter," returned his son, defiantly, as he freed his arm from the old man's grasp. "I am no deserter—I have only done my duty as a subject of the French king. I have left the flag of the enemy, and I am here ready and willing to obey my new master as a true subject. That is all I have to say, father, and I believe when you consider, you will see that I was right, and that you will be pleased for me to take off the Prussian uniform and remain with you." He did not wait for his father's answer, but left the room hastily, as if he feared to be again detained.
The old man arose to follow him, but his feet refused their accustomed office; with a deep groan, he sank upon his chair, and as the scalding tears streamed from his eyes, he murmured: "Oh, my God! my son is a deserter! Why did you permit me to live to see this shame? Why did you not close my eyes that they might not meet this disgrace?"
CHAPTER V. THE BRAVE FATHERS AND THE COWARDLY SONS.
The clear bell of the village church was sounding for mass, calling the pious inhabitants of Brunen to worship in the temple of God. All the hut-doors were opening, and men and women in Sunday attire wending their way in solemn stillness to church. They were followed by their children—the maidens with downcast, modest eyes, the boys with bright and joyous faces, proud of the thought that they were old enough to go to church.
From the distant farm came the servants, two and two, up the broad chestnut alley, greeting here and there the church-goers, and walking on with them, chatting softly. They all remained standing a short time under the great linden, waiting until the bell ceased, until the church-door was opened and the minister appeared with the sacristan and the four choir-boys. Not until then were they allowed to enter the church.
A bright-looking crowd was assembled under the linden; it seemed as if all the inhabitants of the village were there. All felt the necessity of visiting God's house to-day to thank Him for the safe return of their sons, brothers, and lovers. The twelve boys who had returned were under the linden in their handsomest Sunday attire. But why did they stand alone? Why was such a wide space left between them and the other villagers? Why did the men avoid looking at them? Why did the maidens step timidly back and remain silent when they approached and tried to speak with them? Why were they all whispering together, pointing at the boys and turning their backs upon them when they drew near?
"Leave them alone," whispered one of the boys to the others; "they will be more friendly this afternoon when the music is playing and the wine and cake is handed."
"There is my father, and I must go and meet him," said Charles Henry, as he hastened toward the old man who was approaching the square.
All drew back from Charles Henry, and as he stood opposite his father, like actors upon the stage they found themselves alone amongst the spectators, who were gazing at them with breathless expectation.
"Good-morning, father," said Charles Henry, with forced gayety, as he offered his hand to his father. "You slept so late to-day, and went to bed so early yesterday, that I have not been able to speak to you since our first greeting. So I bid you good-morrow now."
The old man looked quietly at him, but he did not take the proffered hand, and tried to pass him.
"Father," continued Charles Henry, "you must be tired; our hut lies at the other end of the village, and that is a long walk for your old legs. Rest yourself on me, father, and allow your son to lead you to church." He stretched forth his hand to take the old man's arm, but Buschman pushed it back, and passed him, without looking, without even speaking to him.
Charles Henry sprang after him. "Father," he cried, "do you not hear me? Can you—"
The old man did not really appear to hear him, for he walked toward the village justice with a quiet, unmoved face, as the latter advanced to meet him.
"Friend," said Buschman, in a loud, firm voice, "I am fatigued with my walk; will you lend me your arm?"
He leaned heavily upon the offered arm, and walked quickly onward. All heard these words, but only the justice saw the tears which rolled down his pale, sunken cheeks.
"You were very harsh, father," murmured the justice, as they walked on.
"Were you more forgiving?" said the old man, with a trembling voice. "Was not your son amongst the twelve, and did you speak to him, or look at him?"
"He did not pass the night in my house; I drove him away!" said the justice gloomily.
"Oh, oh!" sighed the old man; "how bitter is our grief! We love our children most when they give us most sorrow; but it must be so, friend, we cannot act otherwise. Let us enter the church, and pray God to give us strength to do what is right."
Supported by the justice, he entered the churchyard, while from the other side the minister, followed by the sacristan and the choirboys, was just appearing.
"See," murmured the justice, "our good old minister has not come to-day to preach to us; but has sent his assistant. There is certainly some disagreeable order of the archbishop to read to us, and our pastor is not willing to read it; he is a good Prussian, and loves the great king."
The young minister advanced smilingly to meet the two old men.
"Well," said he, with sanctimonious friendliness, as he offered both of them a hand, "allow me to congratulate you."
"For what?" asked both of them, astonished.
"For the happiness of yesterday. Can there be a greater joy for fathers than to receive their sons safe and sound from the tumult of battle? Your sons have returned home, faithfully fulfilling their duty to their new master, his Catholic majesty of France. They abandoned the flag of the heretic king, laid aside his uniform, and are again simple peasants, ready to assist their fathers in the field. Come, my young friends, that I may give you the blessing of the Church, for so resolutely fulfilling your duty."
He held out his hand to the young men, who were just entering the churchyard. They obeyed his call the more readily, as it was the first welcome they had received—the first kind word they had heard since their return. As they approached the minister, the other men drew back, and entered the church hastily, followed by their wives and children.
"You will see, father," murmured the justice, as they seated themselves together in the pew, "that there is an order to-day. Whenever the assistant is so delighted and friendly, there is something wrong. They are certainly meditating some villanous trick against Frederick, and therefore our good pastor is not here."
The justice had prophesied aright. When the services were over, and the congregation about to leave the church, the assistant again mounted the pulpit, and desired them to remain for a while, and hear what he had to communicate, in the name of the archbishop, Sir Clement Augustus of Bavaria.
"His eminence, the most honorable archbishop, sends his dear and faithful children the holy blessing and salutation of the Church. These are his words: 'We, Clement Augustus, archbishop of Bavaria, entreat and command our children in Christ to be faithful to their new government and their new king, Louis XV. of France, whose apostolic majesty has taken the sword of the Lord into his blessed hand, to fight the enemies of the Church, and to chastise and punish the rebellious heretic prince who has arbitrarily named himself King of Prussia. God's anger is against him, and He will crush and destroy the presumptuous mockers of the Lord. Woe unto them who will not listen to God's voice, who in their mad blindness cling to this heretic! Woe unto you if, in the delusion of your hearts, you still offer him love and faith! You are released from all duty to him as subjects, and you now have the blessing of the Church. I, as your shepherd, made so by the holy Pope of Rome, command you, therefore, to be faithful to your new master—pray that God may bless his arms, and grant him victory over his ungodly enemy. My anger and dire punishment shall reach any one who refuses to obey this command. He who dares to stand by the heretic king, is himself a heretic, and a rebellious subject of the Church. Be on your guard; heavy punishment shall meet those who dare to rejoice over the fame of the so-called great Frederick. Such rejoicing will be regarded as blasphemy against the holy Mother Church. To conclude, we remain your loving father, and send our dear children in Christ our most gracious love and greeting.'"
The men listened to the message of the fanatic archbishop with gloomy faces and downcast eyes; but the twelve boys, who at first stood alone in the aisle, not daring to seat themselves with the others, now gazed boldly and triumphantly around, seeming to ask if the villagers did not now acknowledge that they had acted wisely in returning.
With renewed courage, and somewhat proudly, they were the first to leave the church, and placed themselves in two rows at the door. While the congregation was passing by they invited their dear friends and relations to meet them that afternoon under the great linden, where they would hold a little festival to celebrate their safe return.
"We shall come," said the men, with earnest, solemn voices. "We will be there," said the mothers, gazing with tearful eyes at the triumphant faces of their sons. The young maidens whom the boys invited to dance, passed them in silence.
Old Buschman, alone, did not answer his son's invitation, nor did he follow the rest to the village, but turned to the side of the churchyard where his wife was buried. He seated himself upon her grave, and murmured a few words with trembling lips, raising his face toward heaven. A sob escaped him every now and then, and the tears rolled slowly from his eyes. From time to time he wrung his hands, as if bewailing his sorrow to God and beseeching His mercy, then brushed away his tears—angry with himself for being so moved.
He sat there a long, long time, struggling with his grief—alone with God and his shame. Approaching steps aroused him; he looked up. The village justice stood before him, and gazed at him with a melancholy smile.
"I knew I would find you here, Father Buschman, and I came for you. The time is come; we are all assembled on the square awaiting you."
"I come!" said the old man, as he stood up resolutely, giving a last loving farewell glance at his wife's grave.
The old man no longer needed his friend's arm to support him, his steps were firm; his form manly and erect, his venerable countenance glowed with energy.
By the side of the village justice he walked to the square, under the great linden. There every thing looked bright and gay. The boys had taken advantage of the dinner hour to make worthy preparations for their festival. They had brought fresh evergreens from the woods, and had made wreaths and festooned them from tree to tree around the square. The ground was covered prettily with flowers and leaves, and the bench under the tree was decorated with a wreath of field-flowers.
On one side of the square stood several tables covered with bottles of wine and beer and cake and bread; not far from the tables was a throne adorned with flowers, where sat the fiddler, gazing proudly around him, like a king who knows he is the crowning point of the feast.
It certainly had been a long time since the merry sound of the fiddle had been heard in the village of Brunen. The throne was surrounded by little boys and girls listening with wondering delight at the gay music. But the grown girls stood afar off and did not look even once at the enticing fiddler, but hid themselves timidly behind the mothers, who were standing with stern faces gazing at the groups of men waiting anxiously on the other side of the square.
The stillness and universal silence began at last to make the boys uneasy. They had tried in vain to engage the men in conversation. They received no answer to their questions, and when they turned to the women and the maidens, they also remained dumb. The returned soldiers then went to the other side of the square to talk to the fiddler and the children; but when they began to fondle and play with the little ones, they were called by their fathers and mothers and bade to remain at their side.
The boys gazed questioningly at one another.
"I am curious to know what this means; are we to remain standing here all night?" muttered one of them.
"It appears to me that they are waiting for some one," murmured another.
"They are expecting my father," said Charles Henry; "and see, there he comes from the churchyard. The justice went for him."
When the old man arrived at the square the men advanced to meet him, conducted him gravely to the bench under the great linden, and assisted him to stand upon it. There he towered above them, and his pale, venerable face, his silver hairs were visible to all. Every eye was directed to him, and breathless silence ensued. The old man raised his arm and pointed toward the side where the twelve boys stood.
"Come to me, Charles Henry Buschman," he said, solemnly; and as his son advanced rapidly to him, he continued: "I ask you in the name of God, if what you told me yesterday is true? Have you secretly left the flag of your king, our sovereign—the great King Frederick of Prussia? Is it true that you have forsaken your regiment and the flag to which you swore to be faithful?"
"It is true," said Charles Henry, with assumed daring, "but we were not only justified in doing so—our duty compelled us. We are no longer Prussian subjects, but subjects of the King of France. You all heard to-day what the minister read to us in church—how the archbishop commanded us to be faithful to our new sovereign. We could no longer wear the Prussian uniform or be Prussian soldiers, therefore we returned to our village."
"You returned as dishonored, faithless soldiers!" cried the old man, looking angrily at his son—"you returned covered with shame—miserable deserters—to the disgrace of your fathers, mothers, your brothers, sisters, sweethearts, and your friends. You have deserted the flag of your rightful king, to whom you swore the oath of allegiance—an oath which God received, and which no man can annul. Men of Brunen! shall we stand this shame that our sons bring upon us? Shall the world point their fingers at us and say: 'These are the fathers of soldiers who deserted their regiment, and were false to their king?'"
"No!" cried they all, as with one voice—"no, we will not stand this—we will have no deserters as sons!"
The old man bowed his head in silence; then turned slowly to the side where the women stood.
"Women and maidens of Brunen! Will you allow your sons and brothers who are covered with shame, to stay amongst you? Will you receive the deserters in your houses and at your tables? Will you open your arms to them and call them sons and brothers?"
"No, no!" cried the women and maidens, simultaneously; "we will not receive them in our houses, or at our tables. We will have no deserters for sons or brothers!"
The old man stood erect, and, as if inspired with a mighty enthusiasm, raised his arm toward heaven, and his countenance beamed with holy light.
"They must return to their flag," he cried, in a commanding voice "With your blood you must wash the shame from your brows, and from ours. If God preserves your lives, and you redeem your honor as brave soldiers of the King of Prussia, then and then only we will receive you as our sons and welcome you to our arms."
"So shall it be!" cried the men and the women, and the maidens murmured their acquiescence.
The old man stepped from the bench and walked forward slowly to the other side of the square where the twelve young men were standing gazing at him with terrified faces.
"Return!" cried the old man, stretching his arm toward them—"return to the flag of your king; we want no deserters amongst us; away with you!"
"Away with you!" cried the men—"away from our village!"
The children, influenced by their parents, cried out with shrill voices: "Away from our village—away!"
The youths were at first stunned, and gazed with staring eyes at the crowd of angry faces and flashing eyes which menaced them, then seized with terror, they fled.
"Away with you! away with the deserters!" was thundered after them. "Away with you!" cried their mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, and friends.
This fearful cry sounded to them like the peal of the last judgment. With trembling knees, and faces pale as death, they rushed down the principal street of the village. The crowd started after them, and like the howling of a storm, shouted behind them: "Away with you!—away with the deserters!"
On they ran, as if pursued by furies, farther, farther down the street, but the villagers still chased them. Once only Charles Henry dared to look around at the pursuers. It was a fearful sight. At the head of the rest he saw his old father, with his pale face, his white hair flying in the wind; raising his arms threateningly toward him, he cried out in a thundering voice: "Away with you!—away with the deserters!"
Charles Henry rushed onward—a cry of terror escaped his lips, and he fled like a madman.
They had passed the borders of the village—it was quiet behind them—they dared to look back—they were alone. But on the boundary-line the villagers stood—their faces turned toward the fugitives—and like the distant croakings of a raven there sounded in the air: "Away with you!—away with the deserters!"
Breathless, with tottering knees, the boys sank down—with hollow eyes, speechless with terror, sorrow, and humility, they gazed at each other.
They did not dare return to the village. Perhaps to appease the anger of their relations, perhaps because they repented of their cowardice, they returned to their regiment, acknowledged their crime, and prayed for forgiveness.
Thus the brave fathers of the village of Brunen punished their cowardly sons, and drove the dishonored and faithless boys to their duty, perhaps to their death. [Footnote: This account is historical.]
CHAPTER VI. THE TRAITOR'S BETRAYAL.
Count Ranuzi was alone in his apartments. He sat at his writing-table reading over the two letters he had just written; a triumphant smile was upon his lip as he finished. "It will succeed," murmured he, softly; "we will take Magdeburg without a blow, and thus deprive the King of Prussia of his most valuable fortress. The plan cannot miscarry; and then I have only to convince the empress that I was the soul of this undertaking—that I led the intrigue. Ah, I shall succeed at last—I shall occupy a position worthy of me—and as general of our order I shall rule the world. I shall earn this title at Magdeburg—there I will build my throne—there I will reign! But I must consider it all once more, to see if no error, no mistake, has escaped me. I first formed a connection with the officer yon Kimsky, an Austrian prisoner, because through him I could make connections between the town and the citadel. Kimsky, at my wish, made some of his town friends acquainted with the officers of the citadel. It was then necessary to give these new friends some clew, some aim that would appear innocent to them, and conceal the real plan. I chose Trenck as the protecting shield for my undertaking. To inspire him with confidence in my agents, I obtained a sort of credential letter from Princess Amelia, and interested her in my cause. She provided me with money, and gave me, besides the one to Trenck, a letter of recommendation to a sure, trustworthy friend in Magdeburg. I was now much nearer my design. On the pretence of working for Trenck, I worked for myself, for my position of general of the Jesuits, and for a fortress for my empress. And thus far all my plans have succeeded. Trenck has formed a connection with three Prussian officers of the citadel. These, touched with sympathy for his pitiful condition, have determined to do all in their power to release him, and are, therefore, in constant companionship with those whom Trenck calls his friends. These, in the mean time, are my agents and subordinates, they act for me while acting for Trenck; the Prussian officers do not anticipate that, in helping Trenck to his freedom, they are helping the Empress of Austria to a new fortress. But so it is. There is no error in my plan, it will succeed. I can rely on Trenck; he is a subject of Maria Theresa, and his thirst for revenge is mighty. He will gain a fortress for his empress. The avenger, through whom God has chosen to punish this arrogant, heretical king, will arise from the depths of a subterranean prison. All that is now left to be done is to acquaint Vienna with the information of this undertaking, so that we may be assured that an Austrian regiment will be in the vicinity of Magdeburg at the proper time, and storm the citadel at a sign from us, and not have that, which we had taken by strategy, torn from us by the King of Prussia's superior force. Now is a favorable time for this. For Frederick, the humiliated, defeated king, is many miles from Magdeburg; he has been compelled to raise the siege of Dresden, and the Austrian troops are lying there like the Russians at Frankfort. Nor are the French far off. All these armies will be prepared to hasten to our aid. All that now remains to be done is to get this news safely to Vienna. But how to accomplish this is a hard question. It were well could I go myself. But I am a prisoner of war, and, until Magdeburg is in our power, this chain will clog me. Another must be sent—a messenger full of courage, determination, and hardihood. I have said this in my letter to Captain von Kimsky; he must seek such a man amongst our sworn friends of the citadel, and give him the sheet of paper I send in my letter. How harmless, how insignificant this sheet of paper seems! and still, were it to fall in the King of Prussia's hands, it would save him a strong fortress and several millions of thalers, for all the money of the Dresden treasury was brought to Magdeburg for safe-keeping. Ah! ah! how much would Frederick give for these two lines of writing, and how richly would he reward him who gave him the key to it! I will send the key by a different messenger, and therefore this second letter. But even if both my messengers were intercepted, all is not lost. I have notified Trenck also to write to Vienna for money and help. He must continue to be the shield behind which we intrench ourselves. Should the undertaking miscarry, we will lay it upon Trenck; should it succeed, it will be through me, and I will not be tardy in claiming my reward. The general of our order is old; should he, however, persist in living, his tenacious nature must—"He did not dare to finish the sentence; but a wild, demoniac smile supplied the words his lips dared not utter. He arose and walked several times up and down his chamber, completely lost in ambitious dreams of the future, for whose realization, as a true Jesuit, he shunned no means, mindful of the motto of their order: "The end sanctifies the means."
He saw a ring upon his hand—that ring, full of significance, before which kings had often bowed, which was to the Jesuits what the crown is to the king—the sacred sign of power and glory—the indisputable sign of invisible but supreme power. He saw himself, this ring upon his hand, subjugating nations, rewarding his friends, punishing his enemies. He suddenly awoke from his dreams, and remembered the present with a weary smile.
"I must not forget, in dreams of the future, the necessity for action. I have many important things to do this day. I must take these letters to Marietta, see her address and post them; then I must seek La Trouffle and receive from her leave of absence, on the plea of visiting a sick friend at Magdeburg. This will be a tedious undertaking, for she will not agree willingly to a separation without great persuasion. I have much influence over her, and a woman in love cannot refuse a request to the object of her tenderness. I will obtain, through Madame du Trouffle, a near and influential relative of the commandant of Berlin, permission to visit Magdeburg, and through Marietta Taliazuchi I will post my two important letters." He laughed aloud as he thought of these two women, so tenderly devoted to him, both so willing to be deceived by him.
"They love me in very different ways," said he, as he finished his toilet preparatory to going out. "Marietta Taliazuchi with the humility of a slave, Louise du Trouffle with the grateful passion of an elderly coquette. It would be a problem for a good arithmetician to solve, which of these two loves would weigh most. Marietta's love is certainly the more pleasant and comfortable, because the more humble. Like a faithful dog she lies at my feet; if I push her from me, she comes back, lies humbly down, and licks the foot that kicked her. Away, then, to her, to my tender Marietta."
Hiding his letters in his breast, he took his hat and hastened in the direction of Marietta's dwelling. She received him in her usual impassioned manner; she told him how she had suffered in their long separation; how the thought that he might be untrue to her, that he loved another had filled her with anguish.
Ranuzi laughed. "Still the same old song, Marietta; always full of doubt and distrust? Does the lioness still thirst after my blood? would she lacerate my faithless heart?"
Kneeling, as she often did, at his feet, she rested her arms on his knees; then dropping her head on her folded hands, she looked up at him.
"Can you swear that you are true to me?" said she, in a strange, sharp tone. "Can you swear that you love no other woman but me?"
"Yes, I can swear it!" said he, laughing.
"Then do so," cried she, earnestly.
"Tell me an oath and I will repeat it after you."
She looked at him firmly for several moments, and strange shadows crossed her emotional countenance.
Ranuzi did not perceive them; he was too inattentive, too confident of success, to entertain doubt or distrust.
"Hear the oath!" said she, after a pause. "'I, Count Carlo Ranuzi, swear that I love no other woman but Marietta Taliazuchi; I swear that, since I have loved her, I have not nor ever shall kiss or breathe words of love to any other woman. May God's anger reach me, if my oath is false!'"
The words fell slowly, singly from her lips, and she gazed with unflinching eyes up at him.
Not a muscle in his countenance moved. Laughing gayly, he repeated her words; then bent and kissed her black, shiny hair. "Are you satisfied now, you silly child?"
"I am satisfied, for you have sworn," said she, rising from her knees.
"Will this quiet you now, Marietta?"
"Well, then, now a moment to business. There are two important letters, my beautiful darling. You see how boundless my love for you is—I confide these letters to your care, and entreat you to post them as usual. My heart and my secrets are in your lovely hands."
He kissed the hands, and gave her the letters.
Marietta took and looked at them in a timid, fearful manner.
"Do they contain dangerous secrets?" said she.
"Dangerous in the extreme, my lovely one."
"Were they intercepted and opened, would you be liable to death?" said she, in a low, trembling voice.
He saw in these words only her solicitude and love for him.
"Certainly, I would be lost—I would have to die were these letters opened. But fear not, my beauteous Marietta—they will not be opened; no one would dream of intercepting the harmless letters you direct to your friends at Magdeburg. Apart from that, no one is aware of our close connection. We have carefully guarded the holy secret of our love; when your husband returns from Italy, this bad world will have no evil rumors to tell of us, and you will be enclosed in his arms as his faithful wife. When does he come?"
"I expect him in three weeks."
"Many glorious, quiet evenings will we enjoy together before his return. And now, farewell—I must leave you."
"You must leave me?"
"I must, Marietta."
"And where are you going?" said she, looking at him earnestly.
"Jealous again," said he, laughing. "Calm yourself, Marietta, I go to no woman. Besides this, have you not my oath?"
"Where are you going?" said she, with a sharp questioning look.
"I have an engagement to meet some friends—the meeting takes place in the house of a Catholic priest. Are you satisfied, Marietta? or do you still fear that some dangerous rendezvous calls me from you?"
"I fear nothing," said she, smiling; "you have reassured me."
"Then, my beloved, I entreat you to command me to go, for if you do not, though I know I ought, I cannot leave you. But, no—first I will see you direct these letters."
"You shall," said she, taking a pen and directing them.
Ranuzi took the letters and examined them.
"This simple feminine address is the talisman that protects me and my secret. And this I owe to you, my darling, to you alone. But will you finish your work of mercy? Will you post these letters at once?"
"I will do so, Carlo."
"Will you swear it?" said he, laughing; "swear it to me by our love."
"I swear it—swear it by my love."
"And now, farewell, Marietta!—farewell for to-day. To-morrow I hope to see you again."
He took her in his arms and whispered words of love and tenderness in her ear. He did not notice, in his impatience to leave, how cold and quiet she was. He took his hat, and bowing gayly left the room.
She stood where he had left her, her arms hanging listlessly at her side, her head bowed upon her breast. She listened intently to his every movement. Now he was on the last stair, now in the hall—when he had crossed it he would be at the street door. With a wild shriek she fled from the room, and hastened down the steps.
"Carlo! Carlo! wait a moment!"
His hand was on the door-knob; he stood still and looked back. She was by his side—pale, with burning eyes and trembling lips, she threw her arms around him and kissed him passionately.
"Farewell, my Carlo!—farewell, thou lover of my soul, thou light of my eyes!"
She kissed his mouth, his eyes, his hands; she pressed him to her heart, and then she pushed him from her, saying, in cold, rough tones, "Go! go, I say!"
Without again looking at him she hurried up the stairs. Ranuzi, laughing and shaking his head at her foolishness, left the house with a contented and assured heart.
CHAPTER VII. THE ACCUSATION.
This time Marietta did not call him back; she did not gaze after him from the window, as she was accustomed to do; she stood, pale as death, in the middle of the room, with panting breath, with flashing eyes; motionless, but with eager and expectant mien, as if listening to something afar off.
To what was Marietta listening? Perhaps to the echo of his step in the silent, isolated street; perhaps to the memories which, like croaking birds of death, hovered over her head, as if to lacerate and destroy even her dead happiness; perhaps she listened to those whispering voices which resounded in her breast and accused Ranuzi of faithlessness and treachery. And was he, then, really guilty? Had he committed a crime worthy of death?
Marietta was still motionless, hearkening to these whispered voices in her breast.
"I will deliberate yet once more," said she, walking slowly through the room, and sinking down upon the divan. "I will sit again in judgment upon him, and my heart, which in the fury of its pain still loves him, my heart shall be his judge."
And now she called back once again every thing to her remembrance. The golden, sunny stream of her happy youth passed in review before her, and the precious, blissful days of her first innocent love. She recalled all the agony which this love had caused her, to whose strong bonds she had ever returned, and which she had never been able to crush out of her heart. She thought of the day in which she had first seen Ranuzi in Berlin; how their hearts had found each other, and the old love, like a radiant Phoenix, had risen from the ashes of the past, to open heaven or hell to them both. She remembered with scornful agitation those happy days of their new-found youthful love; she repeated the ardent oaths of everlasting faith and love which Ranuzi had voluntarily offered; she remembered how she had warned him, how she had declared that she would revenge his treachery and inconstancy upon him; how indolently, how carelessly he had laughed, and called her his tigress, his anaconda. She then recalled how suddenly she had felt his love grow cold, how anxiously she had looked around to discover what had changed him—she could detect nothing. But an accident came to her assistance—a bad, malicious accident. During the war there were no operas given in Berlin, and Marietta was entirely unoccupied; for some time she had been giving singing lessons—perhaps for distraction, perhaps to increase her income; she had, however, carefully preserved this secret from Ranuzi—in the unselfishness of her love she did not wish him to know that she had need of gold, lest he might offer her assistance.
One of her first scholars was Camilla von Kleist, the daughter of Madame du Trouffle, and soon teacher and scholar became warm friends. Camilla, still banished by her mother to the solitude of the nursery, complained to her new friend of the sorrows of her home and the weariness of her life. Carried away by Marietta's sympathy and flattering friendship, the young girl had complained to the stranger of her mother; in the desire to make herself appear an interesting sacrifice to motherly tyranny, she accused that mother relentlessly; she told Madame Taliazuchi that she was always treated as a child because her mother still wished to appear young; that she was never allowed to be seen in the saloon in the evening, lest she might ravish the worshippers and lovers of her mother. Having gone so far in her confidences, the pitiable daughter of this light-minded mother went so far as to speak of her mother's adorers. The last and most dangerous of these, the one she hated most bitterly, because he came most frequently and occupied most of her mother's time and thoughts, she declared to be the Count Ranuzi. This was the beginning of those fearful torments which Marietta Taliazuchi had for some months endured—tortures which increased with the conviction that there was truly an understanding between Ranuzi and Madame du Trouffle; that Ranuzi, under the pretence of being overwhelmed with important business, refused to pass the evening with her, yet went regularly every evening to Madame du Trouffle.
Marietta had endured this torture silently; she denied herself the consolation of complaining to any one; she had the courage, with smiling lips, to dispute the truth of Camilla's narratives, and to accuse her of slander; she would have conviction, she longed for proof, and Camilla, excited by her incredulity, promised to give it.
One day, with a triumphant air, she handed Marietta a little note she had stolen from her mother's writing-desk. It was a poem, written in French, in which Ranuzi, with the most submissive love, the most glowing tenderness, besought the beautiful Louise to allow him to come in the evening, to kneel at her feet and worship as the faithful worship the mother of God.
Marietta read the poem several times, and then with quiet composure returned it to Camilla; but her cheeks were deadly pale, and her lips trembled so violently, that Camilla asked her kindly if she was not suffering.
"Yes," she replied, "I suffer, and we will postpone the lesson. I must go home and go to bed."
But Marietta did not go home. Beside herself, almost senseless with pain and rage, she wandered about through the streets, meditating, reflecting how she might revenge herself for this degradation, this faithlessness of her beloved.
At last she found the means; with firm step, with crimson cheeks, and a strange smile upon her tightly-compressed lips, she turned toward the castle. There she inquired for the Marquis d'Argens, and Ranuzi's evil genius willed that D'Argens should be found at that time in Berlin—he was generally only to be seen at Sans-Souci. Marietta did not know the marquis personally, but she had heard many anecdotes of the intellectual and amiable Provencal; she knew that the marquis and the king were warmly attached, and kept up a constant correspondence. For this reason, she addressed herself to D'Argens; she knew it was the easiest and quickest way to bring her communication immediately before the king. The marquis received her kindly, and asked her to make known her request.
At first Marietta was mute, regret and repentance overcame her; for a moment she almost resolved to be silent and to go away. Soon, however, her wrath was awakened, and armed her with the courage of despair: with panting breath, with strange disordered taste, she said: "I have come to tell you a secret—an important secret, which concerns the king."
The good marquis turned pale, and asked if it related to any attempt upon the life of the king?
"Not to his life, but it was a secret of the greatest importance," she replied. Then, however, when the marquis asked her to make a full disclosure, she seemed suddenly to see Ranuzi's handsome face before her; he looked softly, reproachfully at her with his great fathomless eyes, whose glance she ever felt in the very depths of her heart; she was conscious that the old love was again awake in her, and by its mighty power crowding out the passion of revenge. A lingering hesitation and faint-heartedness overcame her—confused and stammering, she said she would only confide her secret to the king himself, or to that person whom the king would authorize to receive it.
The marquis, in a vivacious manner, pressed her to speak, and made conjectures as to the quality of her secret. Marietta found herself involved in a net of cross-questions and answers, and took refuge at last in absolute silence. She rose and told the marquis she would return in eight days, to know whom the king had selected to receive her communication.
The eight clays had now passed, and Marietta had, during this time, many struggles with her own heart—her ever newly awakening love pleaded eloquently for forgiveness—for the relinquishment of all her plans of vengeance. [Footnote: The marquis, in one of his letters to the king, described his interview with Madame Taliazuchi, with great vivacity and minuteness, and expressed his own suspicions and conjectures; which, indeed, came very near the truth, and proved that, where he was warmly interested, he was a good inquisitor. He entreated Frederick not to look upon the matter carelessly, as in all probability there was treason on foot, which extended to Vienna. Madame Taliazuchi had much intercourse in Berlin with the captive Italian officers, and it might be that one of these officers was carrying on a dangerous correspondence with Vienna. In closing his letter, the marquis said: "Enfin, sire, quand il serait vrai que tout ceci ne fut qu'une bete italienne qui so serait echauffee, et qui aurait pris des chimeres pour des verites, ce qui pourrait encore bien etre, cette femme ne parait rien moins que prudente et tranquille. Je crois, cependant, que la peine qu'on aurait prise de savoir ce qu'elle veut declarer serait si legere, qu'on ne la regretterait pas, quand meme on decouvrirait que cette femme n'est qu'une folle."—"Oeuvres de Frederic le Grand," vol. xix. p. 91.] She had almost resolved not to seek the marquis again, or if she did so, to say that she had been deceived—that the secret was nothing—that she had only been bantered and mystified. But now, all these softer, milder feelings seemed burnt out in the wild fire of revenge and scorn which blazed through her whole being. "He is a traitor—a shameless liar!" she said, pressing her small teeth firmly and passionately together; "he is a coward, and has not the courage to look a woman in the face and confess the truth when she demands it; he is a perjurer, for he took the oath which I exacted from him—he swore to love me alone and no other woman; he had the impudent courage to call down the vengeance of God upon himself if he should break this oath. Why do I hesitate longer?" cried she, springing from her seat; "the perjured traitor deserves that my betrayed and crushed heart should avenge itself. He called down the vengeance of God upon himself. Let it crush him to atoms!"
Now all was decision, courage, energy, and circumspection. She took the two letters she had received from Ranuzi and concealed them in her bosom, then dressed herself and left her dwelling.
With a firm step she passed through the streets which led to the castle. As she drew near the house of Madame du Trouffle, she hesitated, stood still, and looked up at the windows.
"If only this once he did not deceive me! If he is not here; if he told me the truth!" His countenance had been so open, so calm, so smiling when he said to her that he had a rendezvous with some friends at the Catholic priest's; and in a graceful, roguish mockery, asked her if she was jealous of that meeting. No, no! this time he was true. He could not have played the hypocrite with such smiling composure. Scarcely knowing what she did, Marietta entered the house, and asked if Camilla was at home—then hastened on to the door of Camilla's room.
The young girl advanced to meet her with a joyous greeting. "I am glad you have come, Marietta. Without you I should have been condemned to pass the whole evening shut up in my room, wearying myself with books. But I am resolved what I will do in future. If mamma insists upon my being a child still, and banishes me from the parlor when she has company, I will either run away, or I will invite company to amuse me. My cousin, Lieutenant Kienhause, is again in Berlin; his right arm is wounded, and the king has given him a furlough, and sent him home. When mamma is in the saloon, I will invite my cousin here." She laughed merrily, and drew Marietta dancing forward. "Now I have company, we will laugh and be happy."
"Who is in the saloon?" said Marietta, "and why are you banished to-day?"
"Well, because of this Italian count—this insufferable Ranuzi. He has been here for an hour, and mamma commanded no one to be admitted, as she had important business with the count."
"And you believe that he will remain the whole evening?" said Marietta.
"I know it; he remains every evening."
Marietta felt a cold shudder pass over her, but she was outwardly calm.
"Poor child!" said she, "you are indeed to be pitied, and, if you really desire it, you shall have my society; but first, I have a commission to execute, and then I will bring some notes, and we will sing together." She kissed Camilla upon the brow, and withdrew.
The last moment of respite had expired for Ranuzi; there was no longer a ray of mercy in Marietta's heart. Rushing forward, she soon reached the castle, and announced herself to the marquis. She was introduced into his study, and the marquis advanced to meet her, smiling, and with an open letter in his hand.
"You come at the right time, madame," said he; "an hour since I received this letter from his majesty."
"Has the king named the person to whom I am to confide my secret?" she said, hastily.
"Yes, madame, his majesty has been pleased to appoint me for that purpose."
"Let me see the letter," said Marietta, extending her hand.
The marquis drew back. "Pardon me," said he, "I never allow the king's letters to pass out of my own hands, and no one but myself can see them. But I will read you what the king says in relation to this affair, and you will surely believe my word of honor. Listen, then: 'Soyez, marquis, le depositaire de mes secrets, le confidant des mysteres de Madame Taliazuchi, l'oreille du trone, et le sanctuaire ou s'annonceront les complots de mes ennemis.' [Footnote: "I will give the conclusion of this letter which the polite marquis did not read aloud: 'Pour quitter le style oriental, je vous avertis que vous aurez l'oreille rebattue de miseres et de petites intrigues de prisonniers obscurs et qui ne vaudront pas genre de Madame Taliazuchi—elles envisagent les petites choses comme tres-importantes; elles sont charmees de figurer en politique, de jouer un role, de faire les capables d'etaler avec faste le zele de leur fidelite. J'ai vu souvent que ces beaux secrets reveles n'ont ete que des intrigues pour auirs au tiers ou an quart a des gens auxquelles ces sortes de personnes veulet du mal. Ainsi, quoique cette femme vous puisse dire, gardez-vous bien d'y ajouter foi, et que votre cervelle provencal ne s'echauffe pas an premier bruit de ces recits'"—CEuvres, vol xix., p.92.] Madame, you see that I am fully empowered by the king to receive your confidence, and I am ready to hear what you will have the goodness to relate." He led her to a divan, and seated himself opposite to her.
"Tell the king to be on his guard!" said Marietta, solemnly. "A great and wide-spread conspiracy threatens him. I have been made a tool by false pretences; by lies and treachery my confidence was surreptitiously obtained. Oh, my God!" cried she, suddenly springing up; "now all is clear. I was nothing but an instrument of his intrigues; only the weak means made use of to attain his object. He stole my love, and made of it a comfortable, convenient robe with which to conceal his politics. Alas! alas! I have been his postillion de politique." With a loud, wild cry, she sank back upon the divan, and a torrent of tears gushed from her eyes.
The marquis sprang up in terror, and drew near the door; he was now fully convinced that the woman was mad.
"Madame," said he, "allow me to call for assistance. You appear to be truly suffering, and in a state of great excitement. It will be best for you, without doubt, to forget all these political interests, and attend to your physical condition."
Marietta, however, had again recovered her presence of mind; she glanced with a wan smile into the anxious countenance of the marquis.
"Fear nothing, sir, I am not mad; return to your seat. I have no weapons, and will injure no one. The dagger which I carry is piercing my own heart, and from time to time the wound pains; that is all. I promise you to make no sound, to be gentle and calm—come, then."
The marquis returned, but seated himself somewhat farther from the signora.
"I tell you," said Marietta, panting for breath, "that he made use of my credulity—made me a tool of his political intrigues—these intrigues which threaten the lands if not the life of the king. The treason I will disclose would place an important fortress in the hands of the Austrians."
"And you are convinced that this is no chimera?" said the marquis, with an incredulous smile.
"I am convinced of it, and I have the incontestable proof with me." She took the two letters which she had received from Ranuzi, and gave them to the marquis. "Take them, and send them to the king, but, not to-morrow, not when it is convenient, but to-day; even this hour. If you are not prompt, in eight days King Frederick will be a fortress the poorer. Besides this, say to his majesty to be ever on his guard against the captive officers in Berlin, especially on his guard against my countryman, Count Ranuzi. He is the soul of this enterprise; he has originated this daring undertaking, and, if this falls to pieces, he will commence anew. He is a dangerous enemy—a serpent, whose sting is most deadly, most to be feared when he seems most gentle, most quiet. Say to King Frederick he will do well to protect himself from the traitor, the Austrian spy, Ranuzi." Marietta stood up, and bowing to the marquis, she advanced to the door. D'Argens held her back.
"Madame," said he, "if these things are really so, Count Ranuzi is a man to be feared, and we should make sure of him."
"He is indeed a dangerous man," said Marietta, with a peculiar smile. "Ask the beautiful Madame du Trouffle; she will confirm my words."
The black, flashing eyes of the marquis fixed themselves searchingly upon the face of the signora. He remembered that the king had warned him to be upon his guard as to the communication of Madame Taliazuchi, that such mysteries were often nothing more than feigned intrigues, by which the discoverer sought to bring sorrow and downfall to an enemy.
"Ah, signora! I understand now," said the marquis; "you did not come here for patriotism or love for Prussia or her king, but from frantic jealousy; not to serve King Frederick, but to overthrow Ranuzi."
Marietta shrugged her shoulders with a contemptuous expression.
"I am an Italian," said she, laconically.
"And the Italians love revenge," said the marquis.
"When one dares to injure them—yes."
"This Count Ranuzi has dared to injure you?"
A flash of scorn flamed for a moment in her eyes, then disappeared. "Would I otherwise have betrayed him?" said she. "I am an Italian, and you cannot ask that I shall feel patriotism for King Frederick or for Prussia. Count Ranuzi is my countryman, judge, then, how deeply I have been injured when I betray him, and give him over to death."
"To death? it is also then a crime worthy of death which these letters will disclose to the king? You do not deceive yourself? Your thirst for revenge does not make these things appear blacker, more important than they really are?"
"No, I do not deceive myself. I speak but the simple truth."
"Then," said the marquis, with horror, "it is dangerous to leave Ranuzi at liberty. I must apply to the commandant of Berlin, and ask that he be arrested upon my responsibility."
Marietta was already at the door, but these words of the marquis arrested her. With her hand resting upon the bolt, she stood and turned her pale face back to D'Argens. "Certainly, it would be best and surest to arrest him instantly," said she; and her heart bounded with delight when she said to herself, with cruel pleasure: "When once arrested, he can go no more to Madame du Trouffle."
The marquis did not reply, but he stepped thoughtfully through the room. Marietta's eyes followed every movement with a fiery glance. At length the marquis stood before her.
"I cannot take upon myself the responsibility of arresting this man. I do not know that these letters, which I shall send to the king, are really as dangerous as you say. The king must decide; I will send them off by a courier to-day. But, in every event, Ranuzi must be watched, and you shall be his guard. You must see that he does not escape. I make you answerable. Ranuzi must not leave Berlin, and when the king's answer is received, he must be found here."
"You shall find him with me," said she; "and if not, I shall at least be able to tell you where he is. Fear nothing; he shall not escape! I am his guard! When you receive the reply of the king, have the goodness to inform me. This is the only reward I demand." [Footnote: D'Argens wrote to the king: "Si votre majeste ne m'avait point ecrit en propres termes. Quoique cette femme puisse vous dire, gardez-vous bien d'y ajouter foi. J'anrai prie le commandant de faire arreter le nomme Ranuzi jusqu'a ce qu'elle eut mande ce qu'elle veut qu'on en fasse; cet homme me paraissant un espion de plus aeres. Mais je me suis contente de dire a Madame Taliszuchi que si cet homme sortait de Berlin, avant la response de votre majeste elle en repondrait, et elle m'a assure qu'elle le retiendrait."—CEuvres, vol. xix., p. 93.]
"I will inform you, madame," said the marquis, opening the door; "and, as to the Count Ranuzi, I read in your features that you hate him with a bitter hatred, and will not allow him to escape."
CHAPTER VIII. REVENGE.
Five days had passed since Marietta's interview with the marquis. They had wrought no change in her heart; not for a single instant had her thirst for revenge been allayed. Her hatred of Ranuzi seemed to have become more intense, more passionate, since she understood his plans—since she had learned that he had never loved her, and that she was merely the instrument of his intrigues. Since that time she had watched his every thought and deed.
One day while apparently embracing him, and whispering words of endearment in his ear, she had secretly drawn a folded paper from his pocket, which had just been brought to him by a strange servant who, having vainly sought him at his own house, had followed him to that of Marietta. Having thus obtained the paper, she made an excuse for leaving the room in order to inspect it. She carefully closed the door of the room in which Ranuzi sat, and then examined the paper. After reading it, she drew her note-book from her pocket, and hastily tearing out a leaf, she wrote upon it with a pencil. "Lose no time, if you do not wish him to escape. He has received to-day, through the agency of Madame du Trouffle, the necessary passport and permission to go to Magdeburg. I have no longer the power to detain him. What is done must be done quickly."
She folded the paper and passed cautiously through the hall and into the kitchen where her maid was. "Listen, Sophie," she said; "take this note and go as quickly as you can to the castle and ask for the Marquis d'Argens. You must give the note into his own hands, and if you bring me an answer within the hour, I will reward you as if I were a queen. Do not speak, only go."
The maid hurried down the steps, and Marietta returned, smilingly, to Ranuzi, who received her with reproaches for her long absence.
"I have arranged a little supper for us, and have sent my maid to obtain some necessary articles. You will not leave me to-day, as you always do, to go to your conference with the Catholic priest."
"I would not, Marietta, but I must," said Ranuzi. "Believe me, my dear child, if I followed the dictates of my heart, I would never leave this room, which in my thoughts I always call my paradise, and in which I enjoy my only bright and happy moments. But what would you have, my angel? It is not ordained that men should have undisturbed possession of the joys of paradise. Mother Eve sinned, and we must expiate her misdeeds. I must leave you again to-day to join that conference which you so heartily detest."
"But not yet," she said, tenderly, putting her arms about his neck. "You will not leave me yet?"
Thus besought, he promised to remain. Never was he more amiable, more brilliant, more attentive, or more tender. Never was Marietta gayer, more excited, or more enchanting. Both had their reasons for this—both had their intentions. Love smiled upon their lips, but it was not in their hearts—each wished to deceive the other. Ranuzi wished to quiet every suspicion by his tenderness—she must not dream that this was their last meeting, and that he intended leaving Berlin this night, perhaps forever. Marietta wished to chain him to her side and prevent his departure.
Time flew by amid gay laughter and tender jests, and at length Marietta heard the house-door open and hurried steps mounting the stairway. It was the maid who had returned. Marietta's heart beat so violently that she could scarcely conceal her emotion.
"The maid has returned with her purchases," she said, hastily; "I will go out and tell her that you cannot remain with me to-day." She left the room and met Sophie in the hall, who was quite out of breath with her hurried walk, and who handed her a note. Marietta broke the seal with trembling hands. It contained only these words: "Keep him but a few moments longer, and one will arrive who will release you from your watch, and relieve you forever from your enemy by bearing him to prison. The answer of the one to whom I sent your paper has come; he is condemned."
"Very well, Sophie," said Marietta, concealing the paper in her bosom. "When the count leaves, you shall receive your reward. Now listen; the soldiers are coming. As soon as you hear them on the steps, you must tap at my door, that I may know they have arrived."
She hastened back to Ranuzi, but she no longer smiled—she no longer approached him with open arms—but she advanced toward him with flashing eyes, with her arms folded haughtily across her breast, and her countenance pale with passion.
"Ranuzi, the hour of revenge has come! You have most shamefully betrayed and deceived me—you have mocked my love—you have trodden my heart under foot. Lies were upon your lips—lies were in your heart. And whilst you swore to me that you loved no other, you had already betrayed me to a woman. I am acquainted with Madame du Trouffle, and I know that you visit her every evening. This was the conference with the Catholic fathers, for whose sake you left me. Oh, I know all—all! I will not reproach you; I will not tell you of the martyrdom I suffered—of the wretched days and nights through which I wept and sighed, until at length I overcame the love I had borne you. That suffering is passed. But you have not forgotten that I once said to you: 'Should you forsake me, or turn faithlessly from me, I will be revenged.'"
"I have not forgotten," said Ranuzi, "and I know that you will fulfil your promise, but before you do so—before you point me out to the government as a dangerous spy—you will listen to my defence, and only then if you are not satisfied, will you condemn me, and revenge yourself."
"I have all-sufficient proof," she said. "Day by day, hour by hour, have these proofs been forced upon me, as the contents of the poisoned cup are forced upon the condemned man. My love and happiness are dead, but you also shall die—you also shall suffer as I have done. My love was insufficient to keep for me a place in your memory; perhaps my revenge will do so. When you are wretched and miserable, think of me and repent."
"Repent of what?" he asked, proudly. "I have done nothing of which I am ashamed—nothing of which I repent. I have offered up my entire life, my every thought and desire, to a holy, a noble cause. To it I have subjected all my feelings, wishes, and hopes, and had it been necessary, I would without tears have sacrificed all that was dearest to me on earth. It became necessary for the good of this cause that I should appear to betray your love. A plan had been formed in which this woman you have just named could alone aid me. I dared not ask my heart what it suffered, for my head told me that this woman was necessary to me, and it became my duty to obtain her assistance by any means. So I became the daily companion of Madame du Trouffle, so—"
A light tap at the door interrupted the count, and startled him inexplicably.
"What does that mean?" he asked, turning pale.
Marietta laughed aloud. "That means," she said, slowly and scornfully, "that you will not go to Magdeburg to-morrow—that you cannot make use of the passport which your beloved Madame du Trouffle obtained for you. Ah, you wished to leave me secretly—you did not wish me to suspect your intended departure. You were mistaken, Ranuzi. You will remain in Berlin, but you will never go to her again. I will prevent that."
At this moment loud knocking was heard at the door, and two policemen entered the room without waiting for an invitation, and through the open door armed soldiers might be seen in the hall guarding the entrance.
When Ranuzi first beheld these servants of justice, he shuddered and became deathly pale, but as they approached him, he recovered his wonted composure, and advanced proudly and coldly to meet them.
"Are you Count Ranuzi?" asked one of the policemen.
"I am," he said, calmly.
"I arrest you in the name of the king; you are our prisoner."
"With what offence am I charged?" asked he, as he slowly placed his hand in his bosom.
"The court-martial will inform you."
"Ah, I am to be tried by a court-martial. Spies and conspirators are always thus tried. I am charged then with spying and conspiring," cried Ranuzi, and then slowly turning to Marietta, he asked:
"And this is your work?"
"Yes; this is my work," she said, triumphantly.
"You must come now," said the policeman, roughly, as he stepped nearer to Ranuzi, at the same time giving his companion a sign to do the same. "Come immediately and quietly. Do not compel us to use force."
"Force," cried Ranuzi, shrugging his shoulders, as he drew his hand from his bosom and pointed a pistol toward the policemen, from which they shrunk back terrified. "You see that I need not fear force," he said. "If you dare to approach nearer or lay your hand on me I will fire on both of you, for happily my pistol has more than one ball, and it never fails. You see that we are playing a dangerous game, upon whose issue may depend your lives as well as mine. I can shoot you if I desire it, or I can direct this weapon against my own brow if I wish to avoid investigation or imprisonment. But I promise you to do neither the one nor the other, if you will give me the time to say a few words to this lady."
"Be quick, then," said the policeman, "or I will call in the soldiers, and they can shoot you as easily as you could shoot us."
Ranuzi shrugged his shoulders. "You will be very careful not to shoot me. The dead do not speak, and it is very important for my judges that I should speak. Go to that door; I give my word that I will follow you."
As if to strengthen his words, he raised the hand which held the pistol, and the two men withdrew with threatening glances, to the door.
Ranuzi then turned again to Marietta, who turned her great flashing eyes upon him with an expression of anger and astonishment, mixed with hatred and admiration.
"Marietta," he said, gently. She trembled at the sound of his voice. He perceived this, and smiled. "Marietta," he repeated, "you have betrayed me; you have revenged your love! I do not reproach you, my anaconda, but I pray you to tell me one thing; did you send the last letters which I gave you to the post?"
"No," she replied, compelling her eyes, with a mighty effort, to meet his.
"Wretch! What did you do with them."
"I sent them to the King of Prussia."
Ranuzi uttered a shriek, and fell back a step. "Then I am indeed lost," he murmured, "as well as that unhappy creature, who pines for light and freedom. Poor Trenck! Poor Amelia! All is lost; all through the jealousy of this wretched woman. I tell you, Marietta," he continued aloud, as he placed his hand heavily on her shoulder, "it is not necessary that I should curse you, you will do that yourself. This hour will act as deadly poison on your heart, of which you will die. It is true, you have revenged yourself. Today you rejoice in this, for you believe that you hate me, but tomorrow you will repent; to-morrow grief will overtake you, and it will grow with every day—you will feel that you must love me for ever and ever; you must love me, because you have wrought my ruin. Yes, you are right—you have discovered the means to keep yourself in my remembrance. In my dungeon I will think of you. I will do so, and curse you; but you also will think of me; and when you do, you will wring your hands and curse yourself, for revenge will not kill the love in your heart. Be that your punishment. Farewell!"
He passed before her, and quietly approached the policemen. "Come, gentlemen, I am quite ready to follow you; and that you may be entirely at ease I will leave my pistol here. It is my legacy to that lady—my last souvenir. Perhaps she may use it in the future."
He placed the pistol upon her writing-table and hastily approached the door. "Come, gentlemen; I am your prisoner!"
He signed to them to follow him, and walked proudly through the hall.
Marietta stood there trembling and deadly pale—her eyes dilated, her lips opened, as if to utter a shriek. Thus she watched him, breathless, and as if enchained with horror.
Now she saw him open the door of the hall, and throwing back at her one cold, flashing glance, he went out, followed by the police and the soldiers.
"He is gone! he is gone!" she shrieked, as if in a frenzy. "They are leading him to imprisonment—perhaps to death. Oh, to death! It is I who have murdered him. He is right. I am indeed cursed. I have murdered him, and I love him." And with a wild shriek she sank fainting to the ground.
CHAPTER IX. TRENCK.
Trenck still lived; neither chains nor years of loneliness had broken his strength or bowed his spirit. His tall, gigantic form had shrunk to a skeleton; his hair had whitened and hung around his hollow face like an ashen veil. Heavy chains clasped his feet and his throat, a broad iron band encircled his waist, which was attached to the wall by a short chain—a thick bar held his hands apart; but still he lived. For years he had paced, with short, restless steps, this little space that covered his grave; but he smiled derisively at the coarse stone which bore his name.
Trenck still lived. He lived because he had a fixed desire, a grand aim in view—he thirsted for freedom, and believed it attainable. Trenck could not die, for without was liberty, the sun, life, and honor. He would not die; for to be willing to die, he must first have lived. His life had been so short—a few fleeting years of youth, of careless enjoyment—a joyous dream of love and ambition! This had been his fate. Then came long, weary years of imprisonment—a something which he knew not, but it was not life—had crept to him in his prison, and with a cruel hand marked years upon his brow—years through which he had not lived, but suffered. And still he remained young in spite of gray hairs and wrinkles. He glowed with hope and defiance, his sluggish blood was warmed from time to time with new hopes, new expectations. His imagination painted wonderful pictures of future happiness. This hope always remained smiling and vigorous; notwithstanding his many disappointments—his many useless attempts to escape, Trenck still hoped for freedom. As often as the subterranean passages which he dug were discovered, he recommenced his work, and dug new ones; when the sentinels whom he had won by gold and flattery were detected and punished, he found means to obtain other friends.
Truly, friends did not fail; the buried but still living prisoner had friends who never forgot him; bold, loving friends, risking their lives for him. The mighty power of his great misfortunes won him friends. The soldiers who guarded him were seized with shuddering horror and pity at the sight of this sunken form, reminding them of the picture of the skeleton and the hour-glass which hung in the village church. Trenck knew how to profit by this. The officers, who came every day to inspect his prison, were charmed and amazed by the freshness of his spirit, his bright conversation, and gay remarks. These interviews were the only interruption to the dulness of their garrison life. They came to him to be cheered. Not being willing to sit with him in the dark, they brought their lights with them; they opened the door of his cell that they might not be obliged to remain with him in the damp, putrid air. They wondered at his firmness and courage; they sympathized with his youth and loneliness, and this sympathy made for him, earnest, useful friends, who revelled in the thought that Trenck's renewed attempts at escape would at last be crowned with happy results, that he would obtain his freedom.