"But, sire," whispered Deesen, "how can that be possible? Your majesty has but one pair, and you must take them off, in order that they may be mended."
"Well, I will take them off," said the king; "go and seek the tailor. I will undress and go to bed till this important operation is performed. Go at once!"
While the king was undressing, he heard Deesen's stentorian voice, calling out lustily through the streets—"A tailor! a tailor! is there a tailor amongst the soldiers?"
The king was scarcely covered up in bed before Deesen entered, with a joyous face.
"Sire, I have found a soldier who can do the work; he is not a tailor, but he swears he can sew and patch, and he undertakes to dress the wounds."
"And yet, it is said that a higher power rules the world," murmured the king, when he was again alone; "accident—accident decides all questions. If there had been no tailor amongst the soldiers, the King of Prussia could not have received the ambassador of Tartary to-day, and the negotiations might have been broken off."
At this moment the door opened, and Le Catt entered, followed by a servant with the Russian flags and the carpet. When he saw the king in bed, he started back, and asked anxiously "if his majesty had been taken suddenly unwell?"
"No," said Frederick, "I am only making my toilet."
"Your toilet, sire?"
"Yes, Le Catt, did you see a soldier at the door?"
"What was he doing?"
"He seemed to be sewing."
"He is sewing, and he is to-day my first gentleman of the bedchamber; he is dressing me. Ah! in the presence of this humble patcher, I remember that a wise man said, 'A king is but a man to his valet de chambre.' But do not allow my presence to prevent you from building my throne; I will rest here comfortably, and look on."
While the king lay in bed waiting, the soldier who had undertaken the job, sat on a bench before the door. He bent his head zealously over his work, and did not once look up to his comrade who stood near him, leaning against a large oak, gazing rigidly and unweariedly at him. But in this steady and indefatigable glance, there seemed to be a strange, attractive power, which the soldier could not resist. He raised his head involuntarily for a moment, and the sweet and noble face of Charles Henry Buschman was seen.
"Fritz Kober," said he, "why do you gaze at me so, and why do you follow me?"
"Because I have been so accustomed to be where you are!" said Fritz Kober, quietly. "When I heard Deesen call for a tailor, and you answered, 'Here! here!' I stepped out of my tent and followed you; nothing more! But you would also know why I look at you? Well, while it pleases me to see you sewing, it brings strange and pleasant thoughts to my mind."
"What sort of strange and pleasant thoughts, Fritz?" said Charles Henry, bowing down again earnestly over his work.
"I thought," said Fritz Kober, in a trembling voice, "that if ever I should take a wife, she must look exactly as you do, Charles Henry; she must have the same neat little hands, and be expert with the needle as you are. Then I thought further, that in the whole world there was no man so good and brave, so gentle and intelligent as you. Then I considered what would become of me when the war was at an end, and you should desert me and go back to your village. Then I resolved to follow you through the whole world, and not to cease my prayers and entreaties till you promised to come into my hut, and take all that was mine—under the condition that you would keep me always with you—at least as your servant—and never spurn me or cast me off. Then, I thought further, that if you said no—if you refused to come into my house, I would wander far away in despair, and, in the anguish of my heart I would become a bad and contemptible man. Without you, Charles Henry, there is no joy or peace in this world for me; you fire my good angel! Charles Henry Buschman, do you wish me to be a dissolute drunkard?"
"How can I wish that, Fritz Kober?" whispered Charles Henry. "But you could never be a bad man; you have the best and noblest heart in the world! No man dare injure or abuse you! You give to those who ask of you, you help those who suffer, and you stand by those who are in difficulty! Then you are a complete, true man, and know how to maintain your own dignity on every occasion. All who approach you are compelled to respect you, and no one will ever dare to cast a reproach on Fritz Kober. You are, at the same time, a hero, a good man, and an innocent child, and my heart rejoices in you."
"What is good in me, I owe to you," said Fritz Kober. "Before I knew you, I was a simple blockhead, and lived on stupidly from day to day, thinking of nothing. Since I knew you, I have learned to open my eyes, and to reflect. But all this will be changed if you desert me, Charles Henry, and I see that you will do so; yes, you will abandon me. For three weeks past you have taken no notice of me. You would not go into my tent with me at Bunzelwitz, but camped out alone. Here, in the village, you would not come into my hut, but quartered with an old peasant woman. So I followed you to-day, to ask you, once for all, if you have the heart to leave me—to spurn me from you? Look at me, Charles Henry! look at me and tell me if you will make a pitiful and unhappy man of me?"
Charles Henry looked up from his work, and gazed at the pale, agitated face of his comrade; and as he did so, tears gushed from his eyes.
"God forbid, Fritz Kober, that I should make you unhappy! I would rather shed my heart's blood to make you happy."
"Hurrah! hurrah!" cried Fritz Kober. "If this is so, listen to me and answer me, Charles Henry Buschman, will you be my wife?"
A glowing blush suffused Charles Henry's face; he bowed down over his work and sewed on in monstrous haste.
Fritz Kober came nearer and bowed so low that he was almost kneeling.
"Charles Henry Buschman, will you be my wife?"
Charles Henry did not answer; tears and bobs choked his voice, and trembling with emotion he laid his head on Fritz Kober's shoulder.
"Does that mean yes?" said Fritz, breathlessly.
"Yes," whispered she, softly.
And now Fritz uttered a wild shout, and threw his arms around the soldier's neck and kissed him heartily.
"God be thanked that it is over," said he; "God be thanked that I did not deceive myself—that you are truly a girl. When you were last sick, and the surgeon bled you, I was suspicious. I said to myself, 'That is not the arm of a man.' I went out, but in the evening you were praying, and you did not know that I was in the tent, and you said, 'You dear parents in heaven, pity your poor daughter.' I could have shouted with rapture and delight, but I held my peace. I wished to wait and see if you would be good to me."
"But the expression of your eyes was so changed," whispered Charles Henry; "I was obliged to turn away when their glance fell upon me. I felt that my secret was discovered, and therefore I avoided being with you."
"Officer Buschman," cried Deesen, in a commanding voice from the house, "is your work finished?"
"Immediately; I have but a few stitches to do," cried Charles Henry. "Be silent," said he to Fritz, "and let me sew."
But Fritz was not silent; he crouched near officer Buschman, and whispered many and strange things in his ear.
Charles Henry sewed on zealously, blushed often, and replied in low, embarrassed words.
At last the work was completed, and the knees of the great Frederick's breeches were worthily mended with divers patches.
"I will carry them myself to the king, as I have a favor to ask him," said Fritz Kober. "Come with me, Charles Henry; you must hear what the king says."
He took Charles Henry's hand and advanced to the door, but Deesen stood there, and forbade him to enter; he ordered Fritz to give him the breeches.
"No," said Fritz Kober, resolutely, "we have a request to make of the king, and he once gave us permission to come directly to him when we had a favor to ask."
He pushed Deesen aside and entered the room with Charles Henry.
The king sat in his bed reading, and was so absorbed that he did not see them enter. But Fritz stepped up boldly to the bed and laid the breeches upon the chair.
"Did you mend them, my son?" said the king.
"No, your majesty, Charles Buschman mended them, but I came along to say something to your majesty. You remember, no doubt, what you said when we returned from the enemy's camp near Kunersdorf, after the battle, when Charles Henry related so beautifully all that we had seen and heard. You said, 'You are both officers from this day, and if you ever need my assistance call upon me freely.'"
"And you wish to do so now?" said the king.
"Yes, your majesty, I have something to ask."
"Well, what is it?"
Fritz Kober drew up grandly and ceremoniously.
"I ask your majesty to allow me to marry officer Charles Henry Buschman—to marry him to-day!"
"Marry him!" said the king, amazed; "is, then, officer Buschman—"
"A woman, your majesty!" interrupted Fritz Kober, with joyful impatience. "He is a woman; his name is Anna Sophia Detzloff, from Brunen."
Frederick's sharp, piercing eye rested for a moment questioningly upon Charles Henry's face; then nodding his head smilingly several times, he said:
"Your bride is a spruce lad and a brave officer, and knows how to blush in his soldier's uniform. Officer Charles Henry Buschman, will you be the wife of officer Fritz Kober?"
"I will, if your majesty consents," whispered Charles Henry.
"Well, go to the field-preacher, and be married—I give my consent. And now go, I must dress."
"At last," said the king to Le Catt, "fortune will be again favorable to me. Signs and wonders are taking place, as they did with Charles VII. of France. When he was in the most dire necessity, surrounded by his enemies, the Lord sent the Maid of Orleans to save him. To me, also, has the Lord now sent a Joan d'Arc, a maid of Brunen. With her help I will overcome all my enemies."
CHAPTER XVI. THE AMBASSADOR AND THE KHAN OF TARTARY.
The preparations were completed; the room of the king had become, by means of his inventive genius, a magnificent throne saloon. The great arm-chair, draped with rich hangings, looked almost imposing; the dirty floor was concealed by a costly Turkish carpet. The door which led into the entry had been removed, and the opening hung with banners. The entry itself had been changed by means of carpets, banners, and standards into a tasteful antechamber.
The king wore his general's uniform, and the chain of the order of the Black Eagle, and the generals and staff officers stood near him in their glittering dresses. The room of the sheriff had indeed become a royal apartment.
And now an imposing train approached this improvised palace. First appeared two riders, whose gold-embroidered mantles fell below their feet and concealed the well-shaped bodies of the small Arabian horses on which they were mounted, only displaying their slender necks, with their flowing manes and their graceful legs. It was evident from their dark complexions and flashing eyes that these men were foreigners, the sons of the South. On each appeared the diamond-headed hilt of a sword, glittering amid the folds of the costly Turkish shawls which encircled their slender waists; and at the side of each hung the jewelled sheath of a Damascus blade, which was held in the right hand, and presented in salutation. These Turkish warriors were followed by two others, scarcely less richly dressed, and behind them rode four men, in long black robes, with eyes closed, each bearing in his right hand a book bound in gold and velvet, which he pressed prayerfully to his breast; a golden pen was worn in their girdles in place of a weapon, and on the fez an artistically arranged and jewelled peacock's feather. Now followed two other riders; but these were not alike, as the others had been, but bore the most remarkable and striking contrast to one another. One of them was dressed in the latest French style; he wore a blue, silver-embroidered velvet coat, with small-clothes of the same material, which met his white silk stockings at the knee, and were fastened by a band with a diamond clasp. His shoes were also ornamented with diamond buckles and red heels. He wore a three-cornered hat, with a white feather, which was placed lightly and gracefully upon his stiffly-curled, well-powdered peruke. Splendid lace covered his breast, and broad lace cuffs fell over his white gloved hands. It was a perfect ball dress, such as was worn at that time at court by all ambassadors who were not military, in their ceremonious audiences with the sovereign.
Near this man, dressed so gracefully and airily, was another cavalier who presented a great contrast to him. As the one seemed dressed for a summer day, so the other appeared prepared for the coldest weather; the one was ready for the ball-room, and the other for the steppes of Siberia. The long, thin figure of the latter was concealed by a fur mantle, made of the skin of the white Lapland wolf, and lined and trimmed with a darker fur; around his waist was bound a costly gold embroidered shawl, from which hung a small golden cup, and a richly ornamented razor. At his side, instead of the Turkish sabre, a bag, richly worked with gold and pearls, was suspended by golden chains. He wore a fez, on the front of which was embroidered a small golden cup.
Behind these two men came a troop of Turkish, Tartar, and European servants, all in livery; and these were followed by a golden chariot, with closely-drawn blinds, the interior being impenetrable to the most curious gaze. Four Tartars in long white fur mantles rode on either side of the chariot, with drawn swords.
The chariot was followed by a most remarkable crowd, consisting of Prussian soldiers from every regiment, and in every variety of uniform, of peasants and their wives, of old men and children, who were all struck dumb with astonishment and admiration at the sight of this strange cavalcade which now paused before the king's house.
The guards saluted, and the generals and staff officers advanced silently and bowed profoundly to the two cavaliers, who were such a singular contrast to one another, and who were evidently the important persons of the cavalcade. They swung themselves lightly from their saddles, and returned the polite greetings of the generals; the one in fluent German, the other in equally flowing words, but in a language which no one understood, and to which the only answer was a few murmured words, a smile, and hieroglyphic hand-pressures.
The first was the Baron von Rexin, the ambassador of the king to the Grand Sultan and the Khan of Tartary, who had been so fortunate as to become the minster plenipotentiary of the King of Prussia under the title given him by the king of Baron von Rexin, after having been the servant of a merchant in Breslau, called Hubsch. The second was the great and noble Mustapha Aga, the ambassador of Krimgirai, the Khan of Tartary. He was the favorite and confidant of his master, and was sent by him to bear his greetings and good wishes to the King of Prussia.
As soon as they had dismounted, a page of the king approached and invited them to enter the house, where the king was waiting to give them audience. Baron von Rexin, who during his residence in Turkey had learned the Turkish language, informed the ambassador. A smile appeared upon Mustapha Aga's thin, paleface, and he turned to the four men in black robes, who wore the golden pens in their belts, and signed to them to follow him, and then taking the arm of Baron von Rexin, they both entered the house, followed by the four historians and interpreters; the generals and staff officers of the king then arranging themselves on either side of the throne, according to their rank.
The king received the embassy sitting upon his throne. His eye rested smilingly upon Mustapha Aga, who had just bent to the earth before his throne, and as he arose signed to one of the four interpreters to approach. The interpreter opened the costly book, which he held in his hand, and handed the ambassador a large document, covered with seals, which Mustapha Aga pressed respectfully to his lips, and then kneeling, presented it respectfully to the king.
"Mustapha Aga, the ambassador of the high and mighty Khan of Tartary, Krimgirai, has the unutterable honor to present his credentials to the King of Prussia," said the interpreter, in the purest and most fluent French.
The king broke the seal, and looked hurriedly over the document. "Mustapha Aga," he said, "you are most welcome; and I greet your master, the hero Krimgirai, whom I am proud to call my friend, in you."
After the interpreter repeated the words of the king, Mustapha Aga threw himself upon his knees before the throne, and spoke rapidly for a few moments.
"Mustapha Aga, the ambassador of the great Khan," said the interpreter, "entreats your majesty to allow him to show you the highest proof of his respect, to greet you in the manner in which he alone, in great and beautiful Tartary, is permitted to greet the Khan."
"I grant his request," said the king.
Mustapha immediately opened the pouch which hung at his side, and took from it a crystal flask, from which he poured a fluid into the cup, and a delightful perfume immediately pervaded the room. After putting a small quantity of white powder into the cup, he proceeded to stir the contents with a brush, of which the handle was ornamented with three diamonds of immense size. The fluid now arose into a sparkling milk-white foam.
The king looked curiously at him at first, and then turned to his ambassador. "What does this mean?" he asked in German, probably because he did not wish to be understood by the interpreter.
"Sire," said Rexin, smiling, "that means that the noble Mustapha Aga wishes to show you the greatest honor in his power, he wishes to shave you."
"To shave me!" exclaimed the king. "Who and what is the noble Mustapha Aga?"
"Sire, he is one of the greatest dignitaries of Tartary; he is the barber of the Khan!"
The king could scarcely restrain a smile at this explanation. "Well," he said, "it is not a bad idea to make a diplomat and ambassador of a barber. The gentlemen of the diplomatic corps are given to shaving in politics and frequently put soap in the eyes of the world."
Mustapha Aga now approached the king with solemn steps, and bending forward, he thrust his forefinger into the foam in the golden cup and passed it lightly across the king's chin. He then drew forth the golden razor from his belt. But before opening it, he raised his eyes prayerfully to heaven, and spoke a few solemn words. "Allah is the light of heaven and earth! May He illuminate me in my great work!" said the interpreter, translating Mustapha's words.
Then the ambassador began his dignified work; drawing the blade of his knife across the chin of the king with a rapid movement.
The king and his generals and attendants, were scarcely able to retain their composure during this performance.
When Mustapha had finished, he signed to one of the interpreters to approach, and as he kneeled before him he wiped the foam from his razor on the back of his uplifted hand. Then thrusting it in his belt, he bowed deeply and solemnly to the king.
"May Allah keep the heart of this king as pure as his chin now is!" he said. "May the knife which Allah employs to prune away the faults of this king, pass over him as gently and painlessly as the knife of your unworthy servant has done! Mighty king and lord, the all-powerful Khan Krimgirai, the lion of the desert, the dread of his enemies, sends me to you and offers you his aid and friendship. The renown of your deeds has reached his ears, and he is lost in astonishment that a prince, of whose kingdom and existence he was in ignorance, should so long successfully resist the great German sultan, whose power we know, without fearing. The eagle eye of my master now sees clearly that he who was so insignificant is now great enough to overshadow the land of the powerful German sultan, and to make the proud and unbending czarina of the north tremble. He sends me to report to you his profound admiration; but first, will you allow me, O eagle king of the north! to present the gifts which he offers you?"
"I shall be delighted to receive these gifts," said the king, smiling, "as they are a proof of the friendship of the great Khan."
Mustapha Aga made a signal in the direction of the door, and spoke a few words aloud. Immediately there appeared the two men who were so richly dressed in Turkish costumes, and had been at the head of the cavalcade. They stationed themselves on either side of the entrance, and were followed by the lower officers and servants attached to the embassy, who entered, bearing baskets delicately woven and lined with rich stuffs.
Mustapha signed to the first two to approach him, and then, before opening the basket, he turned once more to the king.
"Sire," said he, "before a Tartar gives a promise of love and friendship to any one, he invites him to his house, and begs him to eat of his bread and drink of his wine. Sire, my great and respected master makes use of his unworthy servant to entreat your majesty to descend from your throne and to enter his house, where he is present in spirit, and bids the eagle king of the north welcome."
"I should be delighted to grant this request," returned the king, smiling, "were the distance not so great between my house and that of the Khan."
"Sire, the house of my great master is before your door," said Mustapha Aga, bowing deeply. "On the day of our departure, the Khan walked through it and kissed its walls, and exclaimed: 'Be greeted, my great and royal brother, you eagle of the north! Be welcome, you hero-king, the hated enemy of the czarina, Krimgirai offers you his heart, and would be your friend for all time.' Sire, thus spoke my lord the Khan; the air in his house is still vibrating with the words he uttered. Will your majesty condescend to leave your throne and visit my great master, the Khan Krimgirai?"
The king arose instantly and said, "I am well pleased to do so. Lead me to the palace of your Khan."
Mustapha Aga signed to the basket-carriers and to the other attendants to leave the room, and then spoke a few rapid and emphatic words to the interpreters, who followed them. Then bowing to the ground before the king, he turned and passed out of the house.
Before the door a wonderful spectacle presented itself to the astonished view of the king. Immediately opposite the house, on the open square, a high tent, of considerable size, appeared, around which was a wall of fur, well calculated to protect it from the cold air and rough winds. A carpet covered the way from the door of the tent to the king's house, and from within the tent could be heard the gentle notes of a peculiar music.
"Really," said the king to his ambassador, Von Rexin, "I seem to be living in the 'Arabian Nights.' There is nothing wanting but the beautiful Scheherezade."
"Sire, perhaps she also is here," said Von Rexin; "we were accompanied by a close chariot, guarded by four of the khan's eunuchs."
The king laughed, and said, "We will see," and he rapidly approached the hut. As he reached it, the door flew open, and Mustapha Aga received him kneeling, while his attendants threw themselves to the ground, touching it with their foreheads.
The king entered and examined with great curiosity the house of the Khan. The interior of this immense tent was hung with crimson draperies, amongst which arose twenty golden pillars which supported the tent. At the top of these was an immense golden ring from which the crimson draperies hung, and above this ring were twenty golden pillars which, uniting in the centre at the top, formed the dome of the tent. From the centre hung a golden vase, in which burned the rarest incense. The floor was covered by a great Turkish carpet, and against the walls stood several divans, such as are generally used in the dwellings of the wealthy Turks. In the centre of the tent, just under the suspended vase, stood a low, gilt table, decked with a service of glittering porphyry. One side of the tent was separated from the rest by heavy curtains of a costly material, and from hence came the sound of music, which now arose in loud, triumphant tones, as if greeting the king.
His majesty moved rapidly to the middle of the tent, while his attendants stood against the walls, and Mustapha Aga and his interpreter stood near the king.
Mustapha then took a sword which was on the table, and, after kissing it, handed it to the king. "Sire," he said, "the great Krimgirai first offers you his sword, as a sign of his love and goodwill. He begs that on the day of the great victory which you and he will undoubtedly gain over the hated czarina of the north, you will wear this sword at your side. A sword like this—tempered in the same fire and ornamented with the same design—is worn by the Khan. When these two swords cut the air, Russia will tremble as if shaken by an earthquake."
The king received the sword from Mustapha Aga, and looked at it attentively. Then pointing to the golden letters which ornamented the blade, he asked the significance of the motto.
"Sire," replied Mustapha, solemnly, "it is the battle-cry of the Tartar: 'Death is preferable to defeat.'"
"I accept the sword with great pleasure," said the king. "This motto embodies in a few words the history of a war, and discloses more of its barbarity, than many learned and pious expositions could do. I thank the Khan for his beautiful gift."
"The Khan hears your words, sire, for his spirit is among us."
Mustapha, after begging the king to seat himself upon the large divan, drew aside the opening of the tent, when the servants with the covered baskets immediately appeared, and placed themselves in a double row around the tent. Mustapha then took the basket from the first couple, and throwing back the cover, said: "Sire, will you condescend to eat of the bread and drink of the favorite beverage of the Khan, that the ties of your friendship may be strengthened? The Khan sends you a costly ham—a proof of his unselfish friendship. He had his favorite horse killed, the one that he has ridden for years, that he might offer you a ham from this noble animal."
As the interpreter translated these words, the Prussian generals and officers glanced smiling and mockingly at one another.
The king alone remained grave, and turning to the generals, he said in German:
"Ah, gentlemen! how happy we would have been, had any one brought us this meat at the siege of Bunzelwitz, and how ravenously we would have eaten it!"
He then turned again to the ambassador, who, taking from the other baskets Carian dates and almonds, and other Eastern dainties in silver dishes, placed them before the king. Mustapha then uttered a loud, commanding cry, and the door of the tent was again opened, and there appeared a Tartar, dressed in white wolf-skin, bearing a golden dish, which contained a steaming, white liquid. He took it, and kneeled with it before Frederick.
"Sire," said he, "my master begs you to drink with him of his favorite beverage. He pressed his lips to the rim of this dish before sending it to you, and if you will now do the same, the eagle and hero of the north will receive the brotherly kiss of the eagle and hero of the south."
"What is it?" asked the king, in a low voice, of Baron von Rexin, who stood near the divan.
"Sire, it is mare's milk!" whispered Rexin.
The king shuddered, and almost overturned the contents of the dish which he had just received from the hands of Mustapha Aga; but quickly overcoming this feeling, he raised the bowl smilingly to his mouth. After placing his lips upon the rim, he returned the bowl to the ambassador.
"I have received the kiss of my friend. May our friendship be eternal!"
"Allah grant this prayer!" cried Mustapha. "Sire, Krimgirai dares, as this beverage is such a favorite with all Turks, to hope that it may please you; he therefore offers you the animal from which it was procured." He then pointed to the opening in the tent, where now appeared a noble Arabian horse, wearing a costly saddle and bridle, and a crimson saddle-cloth richly worked with pearls and precious stones.
The eyes of the king beamed with pleasure, and as he hurried through the tent and approached the horse, the animal seemed to wish to greet his new master, for it neighed loudly, and pawed the sand with its well-shaped feet. The king gently stroked its slender, shining neck and its full, fluttering mane, and looked in the great, flashing eyes.
"You are welcome, my battle-horse!" he said; "may you bear me in the next engagement either to victory or death!"
He then returned to his seat, in order to receive the remaining presents of the Khan, consisting of costly weapons and furs.
"And now, sire, the Khan begs that you will repose in his tent, and listen to the music that he loves, and look at the dances which give him pleasure. My master knows that the great King of Prussia loves music as he does, and that it gladdens your heart as it does his own. When he goes to battle—which is but going to victory—he takes with him his musicians and dancers, who must perform the dance of triumph before him. The Khan hopes that you will permit them to dance before you, and I pray that your majesty will grant this request."
"I am ready to behold and hear all," said the king.
Immediately, at a sign from Mustapha, the curtain which concealed part of the tent was withdrawn, and four lovely girls, clothed in light, fluttering apparel, appeared and commenced a graceful, beautiful dance, to the music of the mandoline. When they had finished, they retired to the curtain, and looked with great, wondering eyes at the Prussian warrior. Then appeared from behind the curtain four young men, who seated themselves opposite the girls. The musicians began a new strain, in which the girls and young men joined. Then two of the girls arose, and drawing their veils over their faces so that only their eyes were visible, they danced lightly and swayingly to the end of the tent, and then returned to the young men, who now commenced the love-songs, with downcast eyes, not daring to call the name of the objects of their tenderness, but addressing them in poetical terms; and then they sang to the same air the battle-song of the Tartars. In this song, the battles are not only pictured forth, but you hear the shrieks of the warriors, the battle-cry of the Tartars, and, at length, when the battle is won, the loud shouts of rejoicing from the women. When the song was ended, the singers bowed themselves to the earth, and then disappeared behind the curtain.
The music ceased, and the king, rising from the divan, and turning to Mustapha, said:
"I owe to the Khan a most delightful morning, and I will take a pleasant remembrance of his house with me."
"Sire," said Mustapha, "the Khan begs you to accept this tent as a proof of his friendship."
The king bowed smilingly, and as he left the tent, told Rexin to ask the Tartar ambassador to come to him now for a grave conference. The king then dismissed his generals, and attendants, and entered his house, followed by Baron von Rexin and the Turkish ambassador and his interpreters.
"Now we will speak of business!" said the king. "What news do you bring me from the Khan? What answer does he make to my proposition?"
"Sire, he is willing to grant all that your majesty desires, and to give you every assistance in his power, provided you will not make peace with our hated enemy—with Russia—but will continue the war unweariedly and unceasingly, until Russia is humbled at our feet."
"Ah!" exclaimed the king, "the Khan of Tartary cannot hate the Empress of Russia more vindictively than she hates me; he need not fear, therefore, an alliance between me and Russia. I have myself no desire to form a friendship with those rough barbarians."
"If the Empress of Russia hates you, she hates Krimgirai equally. Russia hates every thing that is noble and true; she hates enlightenment and cultivation. Russia hates Krimgirai, because he has civilized his people; because he has changed his rough hordes of men into a mighty army of brave warriors; because he governs his kingdom with humanity, and is, at the same time, a father to his people and a scourge to his enemies. Krimgirai hates Russia as he hates every thing that is wicked, and vicious, and cruel; therefore he is willing to stand by your side against Russia, with an army of six thousand men, and, if you wish it, to invade Russia."
"And what are the conditions which the Khan demands for this assistance?"
"He wishes you to pay his soldiers as you pay your own."
"And for himself?"
"For himself, he begs that you will send him a physician who can cure him of a painful but not dangerous disease. Further, he begs for your confidence and friendship."
"Which I gladly give him!" said the king, gayly. "But tell me one other thing. Has the Khan not yet become reconciled to the Grand Sultan?"
"Sire, the sultan feels that he cannot spare his brave Khan; he made an overture, which Krimgirai gladly accepted. One week before we started on our journey, the Khan was received by the sultan in his seraglio. The heads of forty rebels were displayed as a special honor in front of the seraglio, and, in the presence of the sultan himself, my master was again presented with belt and sword, and again reinstalled as Khan. The sultan also presented him with a purse containing forty thousand ducats. You see, sire, that the sultan prizes and acknowledges the virtues of your ally."
"And how do we stand with the Porte?" asked the king, turning to Baron von Rexin.
"I have succeeded, sire, in establishing a treaty between your majesty and the Porte! I shall have the honor to lay it before your majesty for your signature."
The king's eyes beamed with delight, as he exclaimed:
"At length I have attained the desired goal, and in spite of the whole of Europe. I have my allies!"
Then turning once more to Mustapha Aga, he dismissed him for the day, and gave him permission to occupy the magnificent tent which had been presented to him by the Khan, during the remainder of his visit.
Mustapha Aga then withdrew with his interpreter, leaving the king alone with the Baron von Rexin, who now presented to him the papers which it was necessary he should sign, to establish the long-desired alliance with Turkey. This treaty assured to Prussia all the privileges which Turkey accorded to the other European powers: free navigation, the rights of ambassadors and consuls, and the personal liberty of any Prussian subjects who might have been seized as slaves.
The king signed the treaty, and named Baron von Rexin his minister plenipotentiary, and commanded him to return with the ambassador from Tartary and present the signed treaty to the Grand Sultan.
"Now the struggle can begin anew," said Frederick, when he was once more alone. "I will recommence with the new year; I will battle as I have already done; I will consider nothing but my honor and the glory of Prussia. I will not live to see the moment when I will consent to a disgraceful peace. No representations, no eloquence shall bring me to acknowledge my own shame. I will be buried under the ruins of my native land, or if this consolation be denied me by my unfortunate fate, I will know how to end my misfortunes. Honor alone has led my footsteps, and I will follow no other guide. I sacrificed my youth to my father, my manhood to my country, and I have surely gained the right to dispose of my old age. There are people who are docile and obedient toward fate. I am not one of them. Having lived for others, I dare at least die for myself, careless what the world may say. Nothing shall force me to prefer a weak old age to death. I will dare all for the accomplishment of my plans; they failing, I will die an honorable death. But no! no!" said the king, smiling after a short pause. "I will not indulge in such sad and despairing thoughts on the day which has shown me the first ray of sunlight after so many storms. Perhaps the year sixty-two will be more fortunate than the one just passed. I stand no longer alone; I have my friends and my allies. Why should I carp, that the world calls them unbelievers? I have seen Christians betray and murder one another. Perhaps unbelievers are better Christians than believers. We will try them, at least. When all deserted me, they offered me the hand of friendship. This is the first sunbeam which has greeted me. Perhaps bright days may now follow the storms. May God grant it!" [Footnote: The king was not deceived. The Empress Elizabeth died in the commencement of the year 1762. Her successor Peter the Third, was a passionate admirer of Frederick the Great, and he now became the ally of Prussia. The Empress Catharine approved this change, and remained the ally of Prussia. France now withdrew from the contest; and in the year 1763, Austria, finding her treasury completely exhausted, was compelled to make peace with Prussia. Prussia had no use for her new ally of Tartary, and Krimgirai, who was already on the march, returned home with his army.—See "Memoires du Baron de Tott sur les Turcs et les Tartares."]
CHAPTER I. THE KING'S RETURN.
Berlin was glittering in festal adornment! This was a great, a joyous day; the first gleam of sunshine, after many long years of sorrow, suffering, and absolute want. For the last seven years the king had been absent from his capital-to-day he would return to Berlin.
After seven years of bloody strife, the powers at Hubertsburg had declared peace. No nation had enlarged its boundaries by this war. Not one of the cities or fortresses of the King of Prussia had been taken from him, and he was forced to content himself with his former conquest. There had been no successful results! Losses only were to be calculated.
During these seven years, Russia had lost one hundred and eighty thousand men, the French two hundred thousand, the Prussians a hundred and twenty thousand, the English and confederate Germans a hundred and sixty thousand, and the Saxons ninety thousand—lastly, the Swedes and the States sixty thousand. This seven years' war cost Europe nearly a million of men. Their blood fertilized the German soil, and their bones lay mouldering beneath her green sods.
Throughout all Europe, weeping mothers, wives, and children turned their sorrowful faces toward the land which had robbed them of their dear loved ones; they were even deprived the painfully sweet consolation of weeping over these lonely and neglected graves.
Losses were not only to be counted in myriads of men, whose blood had been shed in vain, but uncounted millions had been lavished upon the useless strife.
During this war, the debt of England had increased to seventy million pounds sterling; the yearly interest on the debt was four and a half million crowns. The Austrians calculated their debt at five hundred million guldens; France at two thousand million livres; Sweden was almost bankrupt, and unfortunate Saxony had to pay to Prussia during the war over seven million crowns.
In the strict meaning of the term, Prussia had made no debt, but she was, in fact, as much impoverished as her adversaries. The Prussian money which was circulated during the war was worthless.
At the close of the war, all those who carried these promissory notes shared the fate of the rich man in the fairy tale. The money collected at night turned to ashes before morning. This was the fatal fruit of the war which for seven years had scourged Europe. Prussia, however, had reason to be satisfied and even grateful. Although bleeding from a thousand wounds, exhausted and faint unto death, she promised a speedy recovery; she was full of youthful power and energy—had grown, morally, during this seven years' struggle—had become great under the pressure of hardship and self-denial, and now ranked with the most powerful nations of Europe.
To-day, however, suffering and destitution were forgotten: only smiling, joyous faces were seen in Berlin. The whole city seemed to be invigorated by the golden rays of fortune; no one appeared to suffer, no one to mourn for the lost—and yet amongst the ninety-eight thousand inhabitants of Berlin, over thirty thousand received alms weekly—so that a third of the population were objects of charity. To-day no one thirsted, no one was hungry; all hearts were merry, all faces glad!
They had not seen their great King Frederick for seven years; they would look upon him to-day. The royal family had arrived from Magdeburg.
Every one hastened to the streets to see Frederick, who on his departure had been but the hero-king of Prussia, but who now, on his return, was the hero of all Europe—whom all nations greeted—whose name was uttered in Tartary, in Africa, with wonder and admiration—yes, in all parts of the civilized and uncivilized world!
The streets were filled with laughing crowds; all pressed toward the Frankfort gate, where the king was to enter. The largest arch of triumph was erected over this gate, and all other streets were decorated somewhat in the same manner. Every eye was turned toward this street; all were awaiting with loudly-beating hearts the appearance of that hero whose brow was decked with so many costly laurels. No heart was more impatient, no one gazed so eagerly at the Frankfort gate as the good Marquis d'Argens; he stood at the head of the burghers, near the arch of triumph; he had organized the citizens for this festal reception; he had left his cherished retirement for love of his royal friend; to welcome him, he had ventured into the cutting wind of a cold March morning. For Frederick's sake he had mounted a horse, a deed of daring he had not ventured upon for many a year; in his lively impatience, he even forgot the danger of being run away with or dragged in the dust.
The marquis knew well that nothing could be more disagreeable to the king than this public reception, but his heart was overflowing with hope and happiness, and he felt the necessity of shouting his vivats in the sunny air. In the egotism of his love, he forgot to respect the preferences of the king.
Perhaps Frederick suspected this triumph which his good Berliners had prepared for him. Perhaps it appeared to his acute sensibilities and noble heart altogether inappropriate to welcome the returned soldiers with wild shouts of joy, when so many thousand loved ones were lying buried on the bloody battle-field. Perhaps he did not wish to see Berlin, where his mother had so lately died, adorned in festal array.
Hour after hour passed. The sun was setting. The flowers which had been taken from the greenhouses to decorate the arch of triumph, bowed their lovely heads sadly in the rough March winds. The fresh, cool breeze whistled through the light draperies and displaced their artistic folds. Notwithstanding the enthusiasm of the citizens, they began to be hungry, and to long greatly for the conclusion of these solemnities. Still the king came not. The Berliners waited awhile longer, and then one after another quietly withdrew. This bad example was speedily imitated, and the gay cortege of riders grew small by degrees and beautifully less. At sunset but a few hundred citizens remained at the gate, and even these heroic Spartans showed but little of the enthusiasm of the morning.
Marquis d'Argens was in despair, and if Frederick had arrived at this moment he would have heard a reproachful phillipic from his impatient friend instead of a hearty welcome. But fortune did not favor him so far as to give him the opportunity to relieve his temper. The king did not appear. The marquis at last proposed to the citizens to get torches, and thus in spite of the darkness give to their king a glittering reception. They agreed cheerfully, and the most of them dashed off to the city to make the necessary preparations.
The streets were soon brilliantly lighted, and now in the distance the king's carriage was seen approaching. Throughout the vast train shouts and vivats were heard, and the proud voices of this happy people filled the air as with the thunder of artillery.
"Long life to the king! Long life to Frederick the Great!"
The carriage came nearer and nearer, and now myriads of lights danced around it. The citizens had returned with their torches, and the carriage of Frederick rolled on as if in a sea of fire. It drew up at the arch of triumph. The king rose and turned his face toward his people, who were shouting their glad welcome. The light from the torches fell upon his countenance, and their red lustre gave his cheek a fresh and youthful appearance.
His subjects saw once more his sparkling, speaking eye, in which shone the same energy, the same imperial power, as in days gone by. They saw the soft, sympathetic smile which played around his eloquent lips—they saw him, their king, their hero, and were glad. They laughed and shouted with rapture. They stretched out their arms as if to clasp in one universal embrace their dear-loved king, who was so great, so beautiful, so far above them in his bright radiance. They threw him fond kisses, and every utterance of his name seemed a prayer to God for his happiness.
But one stood by the carriage who could not speak—whose silent, trembling lips were more eloquent than words. No language could express the delight of D'Argent—no words could paint the emotion which moved his soul and filled his eyes with tears.
The king recognized him, and holding out his hand invited him to take a seat in the carriage. Then giving one more greeting to his people, he said, "Onward—onward to Charlottenburg."
At a quick pace the carriage drove through Berlin. Those who had not had the courage and strength to await the king at the Frankfort gate, were now crowding the streets to welcome him.
Frederick did not raise himself again from the dark corner of the carriage. He left it to the Duke of Brunswick to return the salutations of the people. He remained motionless, and did not even appear to hear the shouts of his subjects. Not once did he raise his hand to greet them—not a word passed his lips.
When they crossed the king's bridge and reached the castle grounds, the people were assembled and closely crowded together. Frederick now raised himself, but he did not see them—he did not regard the brilliantly illuminated houses, or the grounds sparkling in a flood of light. He turned slowly and sadly toward the castle—his eye rested upon that dark, gloomy mass of stone, which arose to the right, and contrasted mysteriously with the brilliant houses around it. It looked like a monstrous coffin surrounded by death-lights. Frederick gazed long and steadily at the castle. He raised his head once more, but not to greet his subjects. He covered his face—he would not be looked at in his grief. D'Argens heard him murmur, "My mother, oh my mother! Oh, my sister!"
The Prussians welcomed joyously the return of their great king, but Frederick thought only at this moment of those who could never return—those whom death had torn from him forever. Onward, onward through the lighted streets! All the inhabitants of Berlin seemed to be abroad. This was a Roman triumph, well calculated to fill the heart of a sovereign with just pride.
The Berliners did not see that Frederick had no glance for them. Gloom and despair veiled his countenance, and no one dreamed that this king, whom they delighted to honor, was at this proud moment a weeping son, a mourning brother.
At last the joyous, careless city lay behind them, and they approached Charlottenburg.
The noise and tumult gradually ceased, and a welcome quiet ensued. Frederick did not utter one word, and no one dared to break the oppressive silence. This triumphant procession seemed changed to a burial-march. The victor in so many battles seemed now mastered by his memories.
The carriage drew up at Charlottenburg. The wide court was filled with the inhabitants of the little city, who welcomed the king as enthusiastically as the Berliners had done. Frederick saluted them abruptly, and stepped quickly into the hall.
The castle had been changed into a temple of glory and beauty in honor of the king's return. The pillars which supported it were wound around with wreaths of lovely, fragrant blossoms; costly draperies, gay flags, and emblems adorned the walls; the floors were covered with rich Turkish carpets; the gilded candelabras shed their variegated lights in every direction, irradiating the faces of the court cavaliers glittering with stars and orders, and the rich toilets of the ladies. The effect was dazzling.
In the middle of the open space two ladies were standing, one in royal attire, sparkling in diamonds and gold embroideries, the other in mourning, with no ornament but pearls, the emblem of tears. The one with a happy, hopeful face gazed at the king; the other with a sad, weary countenance, in which sickness, sorrow, and disappointment had drawn their heavy lines, turned slowly toward him; her large eyes, red with weeping, were fixed upon him with an angry, reproachful expression.
Frederick drawing near, recognized the queen and the Princess Amelia. At the sight of this dearly-beloved face, the queen, forgetting her usual timidity and assumed coldness, stepped eagerly forward and offered both her hands to her husband. Her whole heart, the long-suppressed fervor of her soul, spoke in her moist and glowing eyes. Her lips, which had so long been silent, so long guarded their sweet secret, expressed, though silently, fond words of love. Elizabeth Christine was no longer young, no longer beautiful; she had passed through many years of suffering and inward struggle, but at this moment she was lovely. The eternal youth of the soul lighted her fair brow—the flash of hope and happiness glimmered in her eyes. But Frederick saw nothing of this. He had no sympathy for this pale and gentle queen, now glowing with vitality. He thought only of the dearly-loved queen and mother who had gone down into the cold, dark grave. Frederick bowed coldly to Elizabeth Christine, and took both her hands in his a short moment.
"Madame," said he, "this is a sad moment. The queen my mother is missing from your side."
Elizabeth Christine started painfully, and the hands which the king had released fell powerless to her side. Frederick's harsh, cruel words had pierced her heart and quenched the tears of joy and hope which stood in her eyes.
Elizabeth was incapable of reply. Princess Amelia came to her relief.
"If my brother, the king, while greeting us after his long absence, is unconscious of our presence and sees only the faces of the dead, he must also be forced to look upon my unhappy brother, Prince Augustus William, who died of a broken heart."
The king's piercing eyes rested a moment with a strangely melancholy expression upon the sorrowful, sickly face of the Princess Amelia.
"Not so, my sister," said he, softly and gently; "I not only see those who have been torn from us by death. I look upon and welcome gladly those who have been spared to me. I am happy to see you here to-day, my sister."
Frederick offered Amelia his hand, and bowing silently to those who were present, he entered his apartment, followed only by the Marquis d'Argens.
Frederick stepped rapidly through the first room, scarcely looking at the new paintings which adorned the walls; he entered his study and threw a long, thoughtful glance around this dear room. Every piece of furniture, every book, recalled charming memories of the past—every thing stood as he had left it seven years ago. He now for the first time realized the joy of being again at home; his country had received him and embraced him with loving arms.
With glowing cheeks he turned toward the marquis, who was leaning against the door behind him.
"Oh, D'Argens! it is sweet to be again in one's own native land—the peace of home is sweet. The old furniture appears to welcome me; that old chair stretches its arms wooingly toward me, as if to lure me to its bosom, and give me soft sleep and sweet dreams in its embrace. Marquis, I feel a longing to gratify my old friend; I yield to its gentle, silent pleadings."
Frederick stepped to the arm-chair and sank into it with an expression of indescribable comfort.
"Ah, now I feel that I am indeed at home."
"Allow me," said D'Argens, "to say, your majesty, what the dear old arm-chair, in spite of its eloquence, cannot express. I, also, am a piece of the old furniture of this dear room, and in the name of all my voiceless companions, I cry 'Welcome to my king!' We welcome you to your country and your home. You return greater even than when you left us. Your noble brow is adorned with imperishable laurels; your fame resounds throughout the earth, and every nation sings to you a hymn of victory."
"Well, well," said Frederick, smilingly, "do not look too sharply at my claims to such world-wide renown, or my fame will lose a portion of its lustre. You will see that chance has done almost every thing for me—more than my own valor and wisdom, and the bravery of my troops combined. Chance has been my best ally during this entire war. [Footnote: The king's own words.] Chance enabled me to escape the famine camp of Bunzelwitz—chance gave me the victory over my enemies. Speak no more of my fame, marquis, at least not in this sacred room, where Cicero, Caesar, Lucretius, and Thucydides look down upon us from the walls; where the voiceless books with their gilded letters announce to us that we are surrounded by great spirits. Speak not of fame to me, D'Argens, when from yonder book-shelf I see the name of Athalie. I would rather have written Athalie, than to have all the fame arising from this seven years' war." [Footnote: Ibid.]
"Herein I recognize the peaceful, noble tastes of my king," said D'Argens, deeply moved; "years of hardship and victory have not changed him—the conquering hero is the loving friend and the wise philosopher. I knew this must be so—I knew the heart of my king; I knew he would regard the day on which he gave peace to his people as far more glorious than any day of bloody battle and triumphant victory. The day of peace to Prussia is the most glorious, the happiest day of her great king's life."
Frederick shook his head softly, and gazed with infinite sadness at his friend's agitated countenance.
"Ah, D'Argens, believe me, the most beautiful, the happiest day is that on which we take leave of life."
As Frederick turned his eyes away from his friend, they fell accidentally upon a porcelain vase which stood upon a table near his secretary; he sprang hastily from his chair.
"How came this vase here?" he said, in a trembling voice.
"Sire," said the marquis, "the queen-mother, shortly before her death, ordered this vase to be placed in this room; she prized it highly—it was a present from her royal brother, George II. Her majesty wished that, on your return from the war, it might serve as a remembrance of your fond mother At her command, I placed that packet of letters at the foot of the vase, after the queen mother had sealed and addressed it with her dying hand."
Frederick was silent, he bowed his head upon the vase, as if to cool his burning brow upon its cold, glassy surface. He, perhaps, wished also to conceal from his friend the tears which rolled slowly down his cheeks, and fell upon the packet of letters lying before him.
The king kissed the packet reverentially, and examined with a deep sigh the trembling characters traced by the hand of his beloved mother.
"For my son—the king."
Frederick read the address softly. "Alas! my dear mother, how poor you have made me. I am now no longer a son—only a king!"
He bowed his head over the packet, and pressed his mother's writing to his lips, then laid the letters at the foot of the vase and remained standing thoughtfully before it.
A long pause ensued. Frederick stood with folded arms before the vase, and the marquis leaned against the door behind him. Suddenly the king turned to him.
"I beg a favor of you, marquis. Hasten to Berlin, and tell Benda he must perform the Te Deum of my dear Graun here in the castle chapel to-morrow morning at nine o'clock. I know the singers of the chapel can execute it—they gave it once after the battle of Leignitz. Tell Benda to make no difficulties, for it is my express wish to hear the music to-morrow morning. I trust to you, marquis, to see my wish fulfilled, to make the impossible possible, if you find it necessary. Call me capricious if you will, for desiring to hear this music to-morrow. I have so long been controlled by stern realities, that I will allow myself now to yield to a caprice."
He gave his hand to the marquis, who pressed it to his lips.
"Sire, to-morrow morning at nine o'clock the Te Deum shall be performed in the chapel, should I even be compelled to pass the night in arousing the musicians from their beds."
The marquis kept his word; he surmounted all difficulties, removed all objections. In vain Benda declared the organ in the chapel was out of tune, the performance impossible; the marquis hastened to the organist and obliged him to put it in order that night. In vain the singers protested against singing this difficult music before the king without preparation; D'Argens commanded them in the name of the king to have a rehearsal during the night. Thanks to his nervous energy and zeal, the singers assembled, and Benda stood before his desk to direct this midnight concert.
When the clock struck nine the next morning every difficulty had been set aside, and every preparation completed. The organist was in his place, the organ in order; the musicians tuned their instruments, the singers were prepared, and the chapel-master, Benda, was in their midst, baton in hand.
All eyes were directed toward the door opposite the choir, through which the court must enter; all hearts were beating with joyful expectation—all were anxious to see the king once more in the midst of his friends, in his family circle. Every one sympathized in the queen's happiness at being accompanied once more by her husband; laying aside her loneliness and widowhood, and appearing in public by his side.
All eyes, as we have said, were impatiently directed toward the door, waiting for the appearance of their majesties and the court.
Suddenly the door opened. Yes, there was the king. He stepped forward very quietly, his head a little bowed down; in the midst of the solemn stillness of the chapel his step resounded loudly.
Yes, it was Frederick the Great, he was alone, accompanied by no royal state, surrounded by no glittering crowd—but it was the king; in the glory of his majesty, his endurance, and his valor, radiant in the splendor of his heroic deeds and his great victories.
Frederick seated himself slowly, gave one quick glance at the choir, and waved his hand to them. Benda raised his baton and gave the sign to commence. And now a stream of rich harmony floated through the chapel. The organ, with its powerful, majestic tones; the trumpets, with their joyous greeting; the drums, with their thunder, and the soft, melting tones of the violin and flute, mingled together in sweet accord.
The king, with head erect and eager countenance, listened to the beautiful and melodious introduction. He seemed to be all ear, to have no other thought, no other passion than this music, which was wholly unknown to him. And now, with a powerful accord, the sweetly attuned human voices joined in, and the choir sang in melting unison the Te Deum Laudamus, which resounded solemnly, grandly through the aisles. The king turned pale, and as the hymn of praise became more full and rich, his head sank back and his eyes were fixed upon the floor.
Louder and fuller rose the solemn tones; suddenly, from the midst of the choir, a soft, melting tenor sang in a sweet, touching voice, Tuba mirum spargeus sonum. Frederick's head sank still lower upon his breast, and at last, no longer able to restrain his tears, he covered his face with his hands.
The lofty strains of this solemn hymn resounded through the empty church, which until now had been wrapped in gray clouds, but in a moment the sun burst from behind the clouds, darted its rays through the windows, and lighted up the church with golden glory. The king who, until now, had been in the shadow of the cloud, was as if by magic bathed in a sea of light. All eyes were fixed upon his bowed head, his face partially covered with his hands, and the tears gushing from his eyes.
No one could withstand the silent power of this scene; the eyes of the singers filled with tears, and they could only continue their chant in soft, broken, sobbing tones, but Benda was not angry; he dared not look at them, lest they might see that his own stern eyes were veiled in tears.
Frederick seemed more and more absorbed in himself—lost in painful memories. But the loud hosannas resounded and awakened him from his slumber; he dared no longer give himself up to brooding. He arose slowly from his seat, and silent and alone, even as he had entered, he left the church.
CHAPTER II. PRINCE HENRY.
Seven years had passed since Prince Henry had left his wife, to fight with his brother against his enemies. During these long years of strife and contest, neither the king nor the prince had returned to Berlin. Like the king, he also had won for himself fame and glory upon the battle-field. Much more fortunate than his brother, he had won many victories, and had not sustained a single defeat with his army corps. More successful in all his undertakings than Frederick, perhaps also more deliberate and careful, he had always chosen the right hour to attack the enemy, and was always prepared for any movement. His thoughtfulness and energy had more than once released the king from some disagreeable or dangerous position. To the masterly manner in which Prince Henry managed to unite his forces with those of his brother after the battle of Kunersdorf, the king owed his escape from the enemies which then surrounded him. And to the great and glorious victory gained by Prince Henry over the troops of the empire and of Austria at Freiberg, the present happy peace was to be attributed. This battle had subdued the courage of the Austrians, and had filled the generals of the troops of the empire with such terror, that they declared at once their unwillingness to continue the war, and their determination to return with their forces to their different countries.
The battle of Freiberg was the last battle of the Seven Years' War. It brought to Prince Henry such laurels as the king had gained at Leignitz and Torgau; it placed him at his brother's side as an equal. Frederick saw it without envy or bitterness, and rejoiced in the fulness of his great soul, in his brother's fame. When he found himself, for the first time after the Seven Years' War, surrounded at Berlin by the princes and generals, he advanced with a cordial smile to his brother, and laying his hand gently on his shoulder, said aloud:
"You see here, sirs, the only one amongst us all who did not commit a single mistake during the war!"
Seven years had passed since Prince Henry had seen his young wife, Princess Wilhelmina. He could at last return to her—to his beloved Rheinsberg, and find rest after his many years of wandering. He had written to the princess, and requested her not to meet him in Berlin, but to find some pretext for remaining at Rheinsberg. His proud soul could not endure the thought that the woman he loved, who appeared to him fit to grace the first throne of the world, would occupy an inferior position at court—would have to stand behind the queen. He had never envied the king his crown or his position, but his heart now craved the crown of the queen, for the brow of his own beautiful wife, who seemed much better fitted to wear it than the gentle, timid Elizabeth Christine. Princess Wilhelmina had therefore remained at Rheinsberg, feigning sickness.
It was night! The castle of Rheinsberg glittered with the light of the torches by which the gates were adorned, to welcome the prince to his home. The saloons and halls were brilliantly lighted, and in them a gay, merry crowd was assembled. All the prince's friends and acquaintances had been invited by Princess Wilhelmina to greet his return.
Every thing in the castle bore the appearance of happiness—all seemed gay and cheerful. But still, there was one whose heart was beating anxiously at the thought of the approaching hour—it was the Princess Wilhelmina. She was gorgeously dressed; diamonds glittered on her brow and throat, bright roses gleamed upon her breast, and a smile was on her full, red lips. No one knew the agony this smile cost her! No one knew that the red which burned upon her cheek was caused, not by joy, but terror!
Yes, terror! She was afraid of this meeting, in which she was to receive the prince as her loved husband, while, during the long years of absence, he had become a perfect stranger to her. Not even bound to him by the daily occurrences of life, she had no sympathies with the husband who had been forced upon her, and who had once contemptuously put aside the timid heart that was then prepared to love him. This stranger she was now to meet with every sign of love, because he had one day waked up to the conviction that the heart he had once spurned was worthy of him. It was her duty now to return this love—to consecrate the rich treasures of her heart to him who had once scorned them. Her soul rose in arms at this thought like an insulted lioness, and she felt some of that burning hatred that the lioness feels for her master who wishes to tame her with an iron rod. The prince was to her but her master, who had bound and held her heart in irons, to keep it from escaping from him.
During these seven long years, she had experienced all the freedom and happiness of girlhood; her heart had beat with a power, a fire condemned by the princess herself, but which she was incapable of extinguishing.
Trembling and restless, she wandered through the rooms, smiling when she would have given worlds to have shrieked out her pain, her agony; decked in splendid garments, when she would gladly have been in her shroud. Every sound every step, filled her with terror, for it might announce the arrival of her husband, whom she must welcome with hypocritical love and joy. Could she but show him her scorn, her hatred, her indifference! But the laws of etiquette held her in their stern bonds and would not release her. She was a princess, and could not escape from the painful restraints of her position. She had not the courage to do so. At times in her day-dreams, she longed to leave all the cold, deceitful glare, by which she was surrounded—to go to some far distant valley, and there to live alone and unknown, by the side of her lover, where no etiquette would disturb their happiness—where she would be free as the birds of the air, as careless as the flowers of the field. But these wild dreams vanished when the cold, cruel reality appeared to her. By the side of the once loving woman stood again the princess, who could not surrender the splendor and magnificence by which she was surrounded. She had not the courage nor the wish to descend from her height to the daily life of common mortals. There was dissension in her soul between the high-born princess and the loving, passionate woman. She was capable of making any and every sacrifice for her love, but she had never openly confessed this love, and even in her wildest dreams she had never thought of changing her noble name and position for those of her lover. She could have fled with him to some distant valley, but would she be happy? Would she not regret her former life? Princess Wilhelmina felt the dissension in her soul, and therefore she trembled at the thought of her husband's return. This meeting would decide her whole future. Perhaps she could still be saved. The prince, returning covered with fame and crowned with laurels, might now win her love, and drive from her heart every other thought. But if he cannot win it—if his return is not sufficient to loosen the chains which bind her—then she was lost—then she could not resist the intoxicating whispers luring her to ruin.
These were Princess Wilhelmina's thoughts as she leaned against a window of the brilliant ball-room, the protection of whose heavy curtains she had sought to drive for a moment from her face the gay smile and to breathe out the sighs that were almost rending her heart. She was gazing at the dark night without—at the bright, starry sky above. Her lips moved in a low prayer—her timid soul turned to God with its fears.
"O God, my God!" murmured she, "stand by me. Take from me the sinful thoughts that fill my heart. Make me to love my husband. Keep my soul free from shame and sin."
Hasty steps, loud, merry voices from the hall, disturbed her dreams. She left her retreat, meeting everywhere gay smiles and joyous faces. At the door stood the prince her husband. He advanced eagerly to her side, and ignoring etiquette and the gay assemblage alike he pressed the princess to his heart and kissed her on both cheeks.
Wilhelmina drew from him in deadly terror, and a burning anger filled her heart. Had she loved the prince, this public demonstration of his tenderness would perhaps have pleased and surely been forgiven by her. As it was, she took his embrace and kisses as an insult, which was only to be endured by compulsion—for which she would surely revenge herself.
Prince Henry was so joyous, so happy at meeting his wife once more, that he did not notice her embarrassed silence, her stiff haughtiness, and thought she shared his joy, his delight.
This confidence seemed to the princess presumptuous and humiliating. She confessed to herself that the prince's manners were not in the least improved by his long campaign—that they were somewhat brusque. He took her hand tenderly; leading her to a divan, and seated himself beside her, but suddenly jumping up he left her, and returned in a few moments with his friend Count Kalkreuth.
"Permit me, Wilhelmina," said he, "to introduce to you again my dear friend and companion in arms. Men say I have won some fame, but I assure you that if it is true, Kalkreuth deserves the largest share, for he was the gardener who tended my laurels with wise and prudent hands. I commend him, therefore, to your kindness and friendship, Wilhelmina, and beg you to evince for him a part of that affection you owe to me, and which causes my happiness."
There was something so noble, so open, and knightly in the prince's manner, that Count Kalkreuth, deeply touched, thought in his heart for a moment that he would not deceive this noble friend with treachery and faithlessness.
The prince's words had a different effect upon the princess. Instead of being touched by his great confidence in her, she was insulted. It indicated great arrogance and self-conceit to be so sure of her love as to see no danger, but to bring his friend to her and commend him to her kindness. It humiliated her for the prince to speak with such confidence of her affection as of a thing impossible to lose. She determined, therefore, to punish him. With a bright smile, she held out her hand to the count, and said to him a few kind words of welcome. How she had trembled at the thought of this meeting—how she had blushed at the thought of standing beside the count with the conviction that not one of her words was forgotten—that the confession of love she had made to the departing soldier belonged now to the returned nobleman! But her husband's confidence had shorn the meeting of all its terror, and made the road she had to travel easy.
The count bowed deeply before her and pressed her hand to his lips. She returned the pressure of his hand, and, as he raised his head and fixed an almost imploring glance upon her, he encountered her eyes beaming with unutterable love.
The court assembly stood in groups, looking with cold, inquisitive eyes at the piquant scene the prince in the innocence of his heart had prepared for them—which was to them an inimitable jest, an excellent amusement. They all knew—what the prince did not for a moment suspect—that Count Kalkreuth adored the princess. They now desired to see if this love was returned by the princess, or suffered by her as a coquette.
None had gazed at this scene with such breathless sympathy, such cruel joy, as Madame du Trouffle. Being one of the usual circle at Rheinsberg, she had been invited by the princess to the present fete, and it seemed to her very amusing to receive her own husband, not at their home, but at the castle of her former lover. Major du Trouffle was on the prince's staff, and had accompanied him to Rheinsberg.
Louise had not as yet found time to greet her husband. Her glance was fixed eagerly upon the princess; she noticed her every movement, her every look; she watched every smile, every quiver of her lip. Her husband stood at her side—he had been there for some time, greeting her in low, tender words—but Louise did not attend to him. She seemed not to see him; her whole soul was in her eyes, and they were occupied with the princess. Suddenly she turns her sparkling eyes upon her husband and murmurs. "He is lost! His laurels will be insufficient to cover the brand which from to-day on will glow upon his brow!" Her husband looked at her in amazement.
"Is this your welcome, after seven long years of absence, Louise?" said he, sadly.
She laid her hand hastily upon his arm, saying, "Hush, hush!" Once more she gazed at the princess, who was talking and laughing gayly with her husband and Count Kalkreuth. "How her cheeks glow, and what tender glances she throws him!" murmured Louise. "Ah! the prince has fallen a victim to his ingenuousness! Verily, he is again praising the merits of his friend. He tells her how Kalkreuth saved his life—how he received the blow meant for his own head. Poor prince! You will pay dearly for the wound Kalkreuth received for you. I said, and I repeat it—he is lost!"
Her husband looked at her as if he feared she had gone mad during his absence. "Of whom do you speak, Louise?" whispered he. "What do you mean? Will you not speak one word of welcome to me to convince me that you know me—that I have not become a stranger to you?" The princess now arose from her seat, and leaning on her husband's arm she passed through the room, talking merrily with Count Kalkreuth at her side. "They have gone to the conservatory," said Louise, grasping her husband's arm. "We will also go and find some quiet, deserted place where we can talk undisturbed."
CHAPTER III. MOTHER AND DAUGHTER.
Louise du Trouffle drew her husband onward, and they both followed silently the great crowd which was now entering the splendidly illuminated conservatories. The view offered to the eye was superb. You seemed to be suddenly transplanted as if by magic from the stiff, ceremonious court-saloons into the fresh, fragrant, blooming world of nature. You breathed with rapture the odor of those rare and lovely flowers which were arranged in picturesque order between the evergreen myrtles and oranges. The windows, and indeed the ceiling were entirely covered with vines, and seemed to give color to the illusion that you were really walking in an open alley. Colored Chinese balloons attached to fine chains, fell from the ceiling, and seemed to float like gay butterflies between the trees and flowers. They threw their soft, faint, many-colored lights through these enchanting halls, on each side of which little grottoes had been formed by twining together myrtles, palms, and fragrant bushes. Each one of these held a little grass-plot, or green divan, and these were so arranged that the branches of the palms were bent down over the seats, and concealed those who rested there behind a leafy screen.
To one of these grottoes Louise now led her husband. "We will rest here awhile," said she. "This grotto has one advantage—it lies at the corner of the wall and has but one open side, and leafy bushes are thickly grouped about it. We have no listeners to fear, and may chat together frankly and harmlessly. And now, first of all, welcome, my husband—welcome to your home!"
"God be thanked, Louise—God be thanked that you have at last known how to speak one earnest word, and welcome me to your side! Believe me, when I say that through all these weary years, each day I have rejoiced at the thought of this moment. It has been my refreshment and my consolation. I truly believe that the thought of you and my ardent desire to see you was a talisman which kept death afar off. It seemed to me impossible to die without seeing you once more. I had a firm conviction that I would live through the war and return to you. Thus I defied the balls of the enemy, and have returned to repose on your heart, my beloved wife—after the storms and hardships of battle to fold you fondly in my arms and never again to leave you." He threw his arms around her waist, and pressed his lips with a tender kiss upon her mouth.
Louise suffered this display of tenderness for one moment, then slipped lightly under his arms and retreated a few steps.
"Do you know," said she, with a low laugh, "that was a true, respectable husband's kiss; without energy and without fire; not too cold, not too warm—the tepid, lukewarm tenderness of a husband who really loves his wife, and might be infatuated about her, if she had not the misfortune to be his wife?"
"Ah! you are still the old Louise," said the major merrily; "still the gay, coquettish, unsteady butterfly, who, with its bright, variegated wings, knows how to escape, even when fairly caught in the toils. I love you just as you are, Louise; I rejoice to find you just what I left you. You will make me young again, child; by your side I will learn again to laugh and be happy. We have lost the power to do either amidst the fatigues and hardships of our rude campaigns."
"Yes, yes," said Louise; "we dismissed you, handsome, well-formed cavaliers, and you return to us clumsy, growling bears; good-humored but savage pets, rather too willing to learn again to dance and sing. The only question is, will the women consent to become bear-leaders, and teach the uncultivated pets their steps?"
"Well, they will be obliged to do this," said the major, laughing. "It is their duty."
"Dear friend, if you begin already to remind us of our duty, I fear your cause is wholly lost. Come, let us sit here awhile upon this grass plot and talk together."
"Yes, you will be seated, but I do not see exactly why we should talk together. I would much rather close your laughing, rosy lips with kisses." He drew her to his side, and was about to carry out this purpose, but Louise waved him off.
"If you do not sit perfectly quiet by my side," said she, "I will unfold the gay wings, of which you have just spoken, and fly far away!"
"Well, then, I will sit quietly; but may I not be permitted to ask my shy prudish mistress why I must do so?"
"Why? Well, because I wish to give my savage pet his first lecture after his return. The lecture begins thus: When a man remains absent from his wife seven years, he has no right to return as a calm, confident, self-assured husband, with his portion of home-baked tenderness; he should come timidly, as a tender, attentive, enamoured cavalier, who woos his mistress and draws near to her humbly, tremblingly, and submissively—not looking upon her as his wife, but as the fair lady whose love he may hope to win."
"But why, Louise, should we take refuge in such dissimulation, when we are assured of your love?"
"You are assured of nothing! How can you be so artless as to believe that these seven years have passed by and left no trace, and that we feel exactly to-day as we did before this fearful war? When you have opened the door and given liberty to the bird whose wings you have cut, and whose wild heart you have tamed in a cage; when the captive flies out into the fresh, free air of God, floats merrily along in the midst of rejoicing, laughing Nature—will he, after years have passed, will lie, if you shall please to wish once more to imprison him, return willingly to his cage? I believe you would have to entice him a long time—to whisper soft, loving, flattering words, and place in the cage the rarest dainties before you could induce him to yield up his golden freedom, and to receive you once more as his lord and master. But if you seek to arrest him with railing and threats—with wise and grave essays on duty and constancy—he will swing himself on the lofty branch of a tree, so high that you cannot follow, and whistle at you!"
"You are right, I believe," said Du Trouffle, thoughtfully. "I see to-day a new talent in you, Louise; you have become a philosopher."
"Yes, and I thirst to bring my wisdom to bear against a man," said Louise, laughingly. "I hope you will profit by it! Perhaps it may promote your happiness, and enable you to recapture your bird. You will not at least make shipwreck on the breakers against which the good prince dashed his head to-day: he was wounded and bleeding, and will carry the mark upon his brow as long as he lives."
"What has he done which justifies so melancholy a prognostication?"
"What has he done? He returned to his wife, not as a lover but as a husband; he did not kiss her hand tremblingly and humbly and timidly—seek to read in her glance if she were inclined to favor him; he advanced with the assurance of a conquering hero, and before the whole world he gave her a loud, ringing kiss, which resounded like the trump of victory. The good prince thought that because the outside war was at an end and you had made peace with your enemies, all other strifes and difficulties had ceased, and you had all entered upon an epoch of everlasting happiness; that, by the sides of your fond and faithful wives, you had nothing to do but smoke the calumet of peace. But he made a great and dangerous mistake, and he will suffer for it. I tell you, friend, the war which you have just closed was less difficult, less alarming than the strife which will now be carried on in your families. The wicked foe has abandoned the battle-field to you, but he is crouched down upon your hearths and awaits you at the sides of your wives and daughters."
"Truly, Louise, your words, make me shudder! and my heart, which was beating so joyfully, seems now to stand still."
Louise paid no attention to his words, but went on:
"You say the war is at an end. I believe it has just begun. It will be carried on fiercely in every house, in every family; many hearts will break, many wounds be given, and many tears be shed before we snail have household peace. All those fond ties which united men and women, parents and children, have been shaken, or torn apart; all contracts are destroyed or undermined. In order to endure, to live through these fearful seven years, every one gave himself up to frivolity—the terrible consequence is, that the whole world has become light-minded and frivolous. We do not look upon life with the same eyes as formerly. To enjoy the present moment—to snatch that chance of happiness from the fleeting hour, which the next hour is chasing and may utterly destroy—seems the only aim. Love is an amusement, constancy a phantom, in which no one believes—which is only spoken of in nursery fairy tales. The women have learned, by experience, that their husbands and lovers did not die of longing to see them; that they themselves, after the tears of separation, which perhaps flowed freely a long time, were once quenched, could live on alone; that independence had its bright side and was both agreeable and comfortable. The history of the widow of Ephesus is repeated every day, my friend. The women wept and were melancholy a long time after the separation from their husbands, but at last they could not close their ears to the sweet, soft words of consolation which were whispered to them; at last they realized that incessant weeping and mourning had its wearisome and monotonous side, that the dreary time flew more swiftly if they sought to amuse themselves and be happy. They allowed themselves to be comforted, in the absence of their husbands, by their lovers, and they felt no reproach of conscience; for they were convinced that their truant husbands were doing the same thing in their long separation—were making love to 'the lips that were near.'"