"Did you think and act thus, Louisa?" said Major du Trouffle, in a sad and anxious tone, looking his wife firmly in the eye.
Louisa laughed with calm and unconcern.
"My friend," said she, "would I have told all this to you, if I had committed the faults I charge upon others? I have been inactive but observant; that has been my amusement, my only distraction, and my observations have filled me with amazement and abhorrence. I have drawn from these sources profound and philosophic lessons. I have studied mankind, and with full conviction I can assure you the war is not at an end, and, instead of the palm of peace, the apple of discord will flourish. Men no longer believe in constancy or honesty, every man suspects his neighbor and holds him guilty, even as he knows himself to be guilty. Every woman watches the conduct of other women with malicious curiosity; she seems to herself less guilty when she finds that others are no better than herself; and when, unhappily, she does not find that her friend is false or faithless, she will try to make her appear so; if the truth will not serve her purpose, she will, by slander and scandal, draw a veil over her own sins. Never was there as much treachery and crime as now. Calumny stands before every door, and will whisper such evil and fearful things in the ears of every returned soldier, that he will become wild with rage, and distrust his wife, no matter how innocent she may be."
"I shall not be guilty of this fault," said Major du Trouffle. "If I find slander lying in wait at my door, I will kick it from me and enter my home calmly and smilingly, without having listened to her whispers, or, if I have heard them involuntarily, without believing them."
"Then there will be at least one house in Berlin where peace will reign," said Louise, sweetly, "and that house will be ours. I welcome you in the name of our lares, who have been long joyfully awaiting you. I have also an agreeable surprise for you."
"What surprise, Louise?"
"You often told me that my daughter Camilla disturbed your happiness, that she stood like a dark cloud over my past, which had not belonged to you."
"It is true! I could not force my heart to love her; her presence reminded me always that you had been loved by another, had belonged to another, and had been made thoroughly wretched."
"Well then, friend, this cloud has been lifted up, and this is the surprise which awaited your return home. Camilla has been married more than a year."
"Married'" cried the major, joyfully; "who is the happy man that has undertaken to tame this wilful child, and warm her cold heart?"
"Ask rather, who is the unhappy man who was enamoured with this lovely face, and has taken a demon for an angel?" sighed Louise. "He is a young, distinguished, and wealthy Englishman, Lord Elliot, an attache of the English embassy, who fulfilled the duties of minister during the absence of the ambassador, Lord Mitchel, who was generally at the headquarters of the king."
"And Camilla, did she love him?"
Louise shrugged her shoulders.
"When he made his proposals, she declared herself ready to marry him; but, I believe, his presence was less agreeable and interesting to her than the splendid gifts he daily brought her."
"But, Louise, it was her free choice to marry him? You did not persuade her? you did not, I hope, in order to humor my weakness, induce her by entreaties and representations to marry against her will?"
"My friend," said Louise, with the proud air of an injured mother, "however fondly I may have loved you, I would not have sacrificed for you the happiness of an only child. Camilla asked my consent to her marriage after she had obtained her father's permission, and I gave it. The marriage took place three days after the engagement, and the young pair made a bridal-trip to England, from which they returned a few months since."
"And where are they now?"
"They live in Berlin in an enchanting villa, which Lord Elliot has converted into a palace for his young wife. You will see them this evening, for they are both here, and—"
Louise ceased to speak; a well-known voice interrupted the silence, and drew nearer and nearer. "Ah," whispered she, lightly, "the proverb is fulfilled, 'Speak of the wolf, and he appears.' That is Lord Elliot and Camilla speaking with such animation. Let us listen awhile."
The youthful pair had now drawn near, and stood just before the grotto.
"I find it cruel, very cruel, to deny me every innocent pleasure," said Camilla, with a harsh, displeased voice. "I must live like a nun who has taken an eternal vow; I am weary of it."
"Oh, my Camilla, you slander yourself when you say this; you are not well, and you must be prudent. I know you better than you know yourself, my Camilla. Your heart, which is clear and transparent as crystal, lies ever unveiled before me, and I listen with devout love to its every pulse. I am sure that you do not wish to dance to-day, my love."
"I wish to dance, and I will dance, because it gives me pleasure."
"Because you are like a sweet child and like the angels," said Lord Elliot, eagerly; "your heart is gay and innocent. You are like a fluttering Cupid, sleeping in flower-cups and dreaming of stars and golden sunshine; you know nothing of earthly and prosaic thoughts. I must bind your wings, my beauteous butterfly, and hold you down in the dust of this poor, pitiful world. Wait, only wait till you are well; when your health is restored, you shall be richly repaid for all your present self-denial. Every day I will procure you new pleasures, prepare you new fetes; you shall dance upon carpets of roses like an elfin queen."
"You promise me that?" said Camilla; "you promise me that you will not prevent my dancing as much and as gayly as I like?"
"I promise you all this, Camilla, if you will only not dance now."
"Well," sighed she, "I agree to this; but I fear that my cousin, Count Kindar, will be seriously displeased if I suddenly refuse him the dance I promised him."
"He will excuse you, sweetheart, when I beg him to do so," said Lord Elliot, with a soft smile. "I will seek him at once, and make your excuses. Be kind enough to wait for me here, I will return immediately." He kissed her fondly upon the brow, and hastened off.
Camilla looked after him and sighed deeply; then, drawing back the long leaves of the palm, she entered the grotto; she stepped hastily back when she saw that the green divan was occupied, and tried to withdraw, but her mother held her and greeted her kindly. Camilla laughed aloud. "Ah, mother, it appears as if I am to be ever in your way; although I no longer dwell in your house, I still disturb your pleasures. But I am discreet; let your friend withdraw; I will not see him, I will not know his name, and when my most virtuous husband returns, he will find only two modest gentlewomen. Go, sir; I will turn away, that I may not see you."
"I rather entreat you, my dear Camilla, to turn your lovely face toward me, and to greet me kindly," said Major du Trouffle, stepping from behind the shadow of the palm, and giving his hand to Camilla.
She gazed at him questioningly, and when at last she recognized him, she burst out into a merry peal of laughter. "Truly," said she, "my mother had a rendezvous with her husband, and I have disturbed an enchanting marriage chirping. You have also listened to my married chirp, and know all my secrets. Well, what do you say, dear stepfather, to my mother having brought me so soon under the coif, and made her wild, foolish little Camilla the wife of a lord?"
"I wish you happiness with my whole soul, dear Camilla, and rejoice to hear from your mother that you have made so excellent a choice, and are the wife of so amiable and intellectual a man."
"So, does mamma say that Lord Elliot is all that? She may be right, I don't understand these things. I know only that I find his lordship unspeakably wearisome, that I do not understand a word of his intellectual essays, though my lord declares that I know every thing, that I understand every thing, and have a most profound intellect. Ah, dear stepfather, it is a terrible misfortune to be so adored and worshipped as I am; I am supposed to be an angel, who by some rare accident has fallen upon the earth."
"Truly a misfortune, for which all other women would envy you," said the major, laughing.
"Then they would make a great mistake," sighed Camilla. "I for my part am weary of this homage; I have no desire to be, I will not consent to be an angel; I wish only to be a beautiful, rich young woman and to enjoy my life—. Do what I will, my husband looks at every act of folly from an ideal stand-point, and finds thus new material for worship; he will force me at last to some wild, insane act in order to convince him that I am no angel, but a weak child of earth."
"You were almost in the act of committing such a folly this evening," said her mother, sternly.
"Ah, you mean that I wished to dance. But only think, mamma, with whom I wished to dance, with my cousin, whom all the world calls 'the handsome Kindar,' and who dances so gloriously, that it is a delight to see him, and bliss to float about with him. He only returned this evening, and he came at once to me and greeted me so lovingly, so tenderly; you know, mamma, we have always loved each other fondly. When I told him I was married, he turned pale and looked at me so sorrowfully, and tears were in his eyes. Oh, mamma, why was I obliged to wed Lord Elliot, who is so grave, so wise, so learned, so virtuous, and with whom it is ever wearisome? Why did you not let me wait till Kindar returned, who is so handsome, so gay, so ignorant, before whom I should never have been forced to blush, no matter how foolish I had been, and with whom I should never have been weary?"
"But how did you know that the handsome Kindar wished to marry you?" said Louise, laughing.
"Oh, yes, mamma, I knew it well; he has often told me so, even when I was a little girl and he was a cadet. This dreadful war is the cause of all my misery; it led to his promotion, then he must join his regiment; then, alas! I must marry another before his return."
"Yes, but a noble, intellectual, and honorable cavalier, who does honor to your choice," said Du Trouffle.
"Lord Elliot has red hair, squints with both eyes, and is so long and meagre that he looks more like an exclamation-point than a man. When he appears before me in his yellow-gray riding costume, I am always reminded of the great windspeil you gave me once, stepfather, who had such long, high legs, I used to creep under them; and when he lies like a windspeil at my feet, and squints at me, his eyes seem tied up in knots, and I never know if he is really looking at me, or is about to fall into a swoon. Now, stepfather, do you not find that Lord Elliot does honor to my taste?"
"Certainly, and all the more because your choice proves that you appreciate the true dignity and beauty of a man, and his outward appearance seems to you comparatively insignificant."
"Alas, alas! now you begin also to attribute noble and exalted motives to me," said Camilla pathetically. "No, no, stepfather, I am not so sublime as you think, and I should not have married Lord Elliot if mamma and myself had not both indulged the ardent wish to be released from each other. Mamma is too young and too beautiful to be willing to have a grown-up daughter who is not ugly by her side, and I was too old to be locked up any longer in the nursery, so I stepped literally from the nursery to the altar, and became the wife of Lord Elliot; so mamma and myself were freed from the presence of each other, and I thought that a time of joy and liberty would bloom for me. But, alas, I have only changed my cage; formerly I was confined in a nursery, now my prison is a temple, because my husband says I am too elevated, too angelic to come in contact with the pitiful world. Ah. I long so for the world; I am so thirsty for its pleasures, I would so gladly take full draughts of joy from its golden cup! My husband comes and offers me a crystal shell, filled with heavenly dew and ether dust, which is, I suppose, angels' food, but he does not remark that I am hungering and thirsting to death. Like King Midas, before whose thirsty lips every thing turned to gold, and who was starving in the midst of all his glory, I beseech you, stepfather, undertake the role of the barber, bore a hole and cry out in it that I have ass's ears—ears as long as those of King Midas. Perhaps the rushes would grow again and make known to my lord the simple fact, which up to this time he refuses to believe, that I am indeed no angel, and he would cease to worship me, and allow me to be gay and happy upon the earth like every other woman. But come, come, stepfather, I hear the earnest voice of my husband in conversation with my merry, handsome cousin. Let us go to meet them, and grant me the pleasure of introducing Lord Elliot to you—not here, but in the brilliantly lighted saloon. Afterward I will ask you, on your word of honor, if you still find I have made a happy choice, and if my windspeil of a husband is of more value than my handsome cousin?"
She took the arm of the major with a gay smile, and tried to draw him forward.
"But your mother," said Du Trouffle, "you forget your mother?"
"Listen now, mamma, how cruel he is, always reminding you that you are my mother; that is as much as to say to you, in other words, that you will soon be a grandmother. Mamma, I could die of laughter to think of you as a grandmother. I assure you, mamma, that in the midst of all my sorrows and disappointments this thought is the only thing which diverts and delights me. Only think, I shall soon make you a worthy grandmother. Say now, grandmother, will you come with us?"
"No, I will remain here, your gayety has made me sad—I do not feel fit for society. I will await my husband here, and we will return to Berlin."
"Adieu, then, mamma," said Camilla, rapidly drawing the major onward.
Louise du Trouffle remained alone in the grotto; she leaned her head against the palm-tree, and looked sorrowfully after the retreating form of her daughter. It seemed to her that a shudder passed through her soul; that a cold, dead hand was laid upon her heart, as if a phantom pressed against her, and a voice whispered: "This is thy work. Oh, mother worthy of execration, you alone have caused the destruction of your daughter; through you that soul is lost, which God intrusted to you, and which was endowed with the germ of great and noble qualities. It was your duty to nourish and build them up. God will one day call you to account, and ask this precious soul of you, which you have poisoned by your evil example, which is lost—lost through you alone."
Louise shuddered fearfully, then rousing herself she tried to shake off these fearful thoughts, and free herself from the stern voices which mastered her. They had so often spoken, so often awaked her in the middle of the night, driven sleep from her couch, and tortured her conscience with bitter reproaches!
Louise knew well this gray phantom which was ever behind her or at her side; ever staring at her with dark and deadly earnestness, even in the midst of her mirth and joyousness; the harsh voice was often so loud that Louise was bewildered by it, and could not hear the ring of joy and rapture which surrounded her. She knew that this pale spectre was conscience; press it down as she would, the busy devil was ever mounting, mounting. But she would not listen, she rushed madly on after new distractions, new pleasures; she quenched the warning voice under shouts of mirth and levity; she threw herself in the arms of folly and worldly pleasures, and then for long months she escaped this threatening phantom, which, with raised finger, stood behind her, which seemed to chase her, and from which she ever fled to new sins and new guilt. Sometimes she had a feeling as if Death held her in his arms, and turned her round in a wild and rapid dance, not regarding her prayers, or her panting, gasping breath; she would, oh how gladly, have rested; gladly have laid down in some dark and quiet corner, away from this wild gayety. But she could not escape from those mysterious arms which held her captive in their iron clasp, which rushed onward with her in the death-dance of sin. She must go onward, ever onward, in this career of vice; she must ever again seek intoxication in the opium of sin, to save herself from the barren, colorless nothingness which awaited her; from that worst of all evils, the weariness with which the old coquette paints the terrible future, in which even she can no longer please; in which old age with a cruel hand sweeps away the flowers from the hair and the crimson from the cheek, and points out to the mocking world the wrinkles on the brow and the ashes in the hair.
"It is cold here," said Louise, shuddering, and springing up quickly from the grass-plot—"it is cold here, and lonely; I will return to the saloon. Perhaps—"
Hasty steps drew near, and a voice whispered her name. Madame du Trouffle drew back, and a glowing blush suffused her cheek, and as she advanced from the grotto she was again the gay, imperious coquette—the beautiful woman, with the cloudless brow and the sparkling eyes, which seemed never to have been over-shadowed by tears. The conscience-stricken, self-accusing mother was again the worldly-wise coquette.
Her name was called the second time, and her heart trembled, she knew not if with joy or horror.
"For God's sake, why have you dared to seek me here? Do you not know that my husband may return at any moment?"
"Your husband is entertaining Prince Henry while the princess dances the first waltz with Count Kalkreuth. All the world is dancing, playing, and chatting, and, while looking at the prince and princess, have for one moment forgotten the beautiful Louise du Trouffle. I alone could not do this, and as I learned from Lady Elliot that you were here, I dared to follow you, and seek in one glance a compensation for what I have endured this day. Ah, tell me, worshipped lady, must I be forever banished from your presence."
The words of the young man would have seemed insincere and artificial to every unprejudiced ear, but they filled the heart of the vain Louise du Trouffle with joy; they convinced her that she was yet beautiful enough to excite admiration.
"All will be well, Emil," said she; "I have convinced my husband that I am wise as Cato and virtuous as Lucretia. He believes in me, and will cast all slander from his door. Remain here, and let me return alone to the saloon. Au revoir, man ami."
She threw him a kiss from the tips of her rosy fingers, and hastened away.
CHAPTER IV. THE KING IN SANS-SOUCI. The ceremonies and festivities of the reception were ended. The king could at length indulge himself in that quiet and repose which he had so long vainly desired. At length, he who had lived so many years to perform the duties of a king, who had in reality lived for his country, might after so many cares and sorrows seek repose. The warrior and hero might once more become the philosopher; might once more enjoy with his friends the pleasure of science and art.
The king entered the carriage which was to bear him to Sans-Souci with a beaming countenance—his deeply-loved Sans-Souci, which had seemed a golden dream to him during the dreary years of the war—a bright goal before him, of which it consoled and strengthened him even to think. Now he would again behold it; now he would again enter those beautiful rooms, and the past would once more become a reality.
He seemed enraptured with the road which led him to Sans-Souci. Every tree, every stone appeared to welcome him, and when the palace became visible, he was entirely overcome by his emotions, and sank back in his carriage with closed eyes.
The Marquis d'Argens, however, the only one who had been allowed to accompany the king in this drive, sprang from his seat, and waving his hat in greeting, exclaimed:
"I greet you, Sans-Souci, you temple of wisdom and happiness! Open wide your portals, for your lord is returning to you. Let your walls resound as did Memnon's pillar, when the sun's rays first greeted it, after a long night. Your night is passed, Sans-Souci; you will be again warmed by the sunbeams from your master's eyes!"
The king smilingly drew his enthusiastic friend back to his seat.
"You are, and always will be a child—an overgrown child."
"Sire," said D'Argens, "that is because I am pious. It is written, 'If you do not become as little children you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven!' Now, Sans-Souci is my kingdom! I have become as the children, that I might be received at the side of my king, and begin once more the days of happiness."
The king gently shook his head. "Oh, I fear, my friend, that the days of happiness will not recommence; the sun which once illumined Sans-Souci has set. Our lips have forgotten how to smile, and joy is dead in our hearts. How many illusions, how many hopes and wishes I still indulged, when I last descended the steps of Sans-Souci; how poor, and weak, and depressed I shall feel in ascending them!"
"What? your majesty poor! You who return so rich in fame, crowned with imperishable laurels?"
"Ah, marquis, these laurels are bathed in blood, and paid for bitterly and painfully with the lives of many thousands of my subjects. The wounds are still gaping which my land received during the war, and they will require long years to heal. Do not speak to me of my laurels; fame is but cold and sorrowful food! In order to prize fame, one should lay great weight on the judgment of men; I have lost all faith in them. Too many bitter experiences have at length destroyed my faith and confidence. I can no longer love mankind, for I have ever found them small, miserable, and crafty. Those for whom I have done most have betrayed and deceived me the most deeply. Think of Chafgotch, he whom I called friend, and who betrayed me in the hour of danger! Remember Warkotch, whom I preferred to so many others, whom I overloaded with proofs of my love, and who wished to betray and murder me! Think of the many attempts against my life, which were always undertaken by those whom I had trusted and benefited! Think of these things, marquis, and then tell me if I should still love and trust mankind!"
"It is true, sire," said the marquis, sadly; "your majesty has had a wretched experience, and mankind must appear small to you, who are yourself so great. The eagle which soars proudly toward the sun, must think the world smaller and smaller, the higher he soars; the objects which delight us poor earth-worms, who are grovelling in the dust, and mistake an atom floating in the sunshine for the sun itself, must indeed appear insignificant to you."
"Do not flatter me, marquis! Let us, when together, hear a little of that truth which is so seldom heard among men, and of which the name is scarcely known to kings. You flattered me, because you had not the courage to answer my question concerning the unworthiness of mankind, when I said I could no longer love or trust them! You feel, however, that I am right, and you will know how to pardon me, when I appear to the world as a cold, hard-hearted egotist. It is true my heart has become hardened in the fire of many and deep sufferings! I loved mankind very dearly, marquis; perhaps that is the reason I now despise them so intensely; because I know they are not worthy of my love!"
"But, sire, you love them still; for your heart is possessed of that Godlike quality—mercy—which overlooks and pardons the faults and failings of mankind. Intolerance is not in the nature of my king, and forgiveness and mercy are ever on his lips."
"I will endeavor to verify your words, dear friend," said the king, offering D'Argens his hand. "And should I not succeed, you must forgive me, and remember how deeply I have suffered, and that my heart is hardened by the scars of old wounds. But I will indulge such sad thoughts no longer. Only look how Sans-Souci gleams before us! Every window which glitters in the sunlight seems to greet me with shining eyes, and the whispering leaves appear to bid me welcome. There are the windows of my library, and behind them await the great spirits of my immortal friends, who look at me and shake their gray heads at the weak child who has returned to them old and bowed down. Csesar looks smilingly at the laurels I have brought, and Virgil shakes his curly locks, and lightly hums one of his divine songs, which are greater than all my victories. Come, marquis, come! we will go, in all modesty and humility to these gifted spirits, and entreat them not to despise us, because we are so unlike them."
As the carriage reached the lowest terrace, Frederick sprang out with the elasticity of youth, and began to ascend the steps so lightly and rapidly, that the marquis could scarcely follow him.
From time to time the king stood still, and gazed around him, and then a bright smile illumined his countenance, and his eyes beamed with pleasure. Then hastening onward, he turned his head toward the house that looked so still and peaceful, and seemed, with its open doors, ready to welcome him.
At length, having reached the summit, he turned once more with beaming eyes to look at the lovely landscape which was spread before him in smiling luxuriousness. He then hastily entered the house and the beautiful room in which he had spent so many gay and happy hours with his friends. Now his footsteps echoed in the lonely room, and none of his friends were there to welcome the returning king—none but D'Argens, the dearest, the most faithful of all.
The king now turned to him, and a shadow overspread his countenance, which had been so bright.
"D'Argens," he said, "we are very poor; the most of our friends have left us forever. The prior of Sans-Souci has returned, but his monks have all left him but you, marquis!"
"Does your majesty forget my Lord Marshal, the most amiable and intellectual of your monks? It needs but a sign from his beloved prior to recall him from Neufchatel!"
"It is true," said the king, smiling; "I am not so deserted as I thought. Lord Marshal must return to us, and he must live here in Sans-Souci, as you will. I must surround myself with those who deserve my confidence; perhaps, then, I can forget how bitterly I have been deceived by others. Come, marquis, give me your arm, and we will make a tour of these rooms."
He placed his hand upon the arm of the marquis, and they passed through the silent, deserted rooms, which seemed to greet the king with a thousand remembrances. Perhaps it was that he might the more distinctly hear the whispers of memory that he had commanded that no one should receive him in Sans-Souci, that no servant should appear until called for. Without noise or ceremony, he desired to take possession of this house, in which he had not been the king, but the philosopher and poet. He wished to return here, at least, as if he had only yesterday left the house. But the seven years of care and sorrow went with him; they crept behind him into these silent, deserted halls. He recognized them in the faded furniture, in the dusty walls, and in the darkened pictures. They were not merely around, but within him, and he again felt how utterly he had changed in these years.
As they entered the room which Voltaire had occupied, Frederick's countenance was again brightened by a smile, while that of the marquis assumed a dark and indignant expression.
"Ah, marquis, I see from your countenance that you are acquainted with all the monkey-tricks of my immortal friend," said the king, gayly; "and you are indignant that so great a genius as Voltaire should have possessed so small a soul! You think it very perfidious in Voltaire to have joined my enemies when I was in trouble, and then to send me his congratulations if I happened to win a victory!"
"Does your majesty know that also?" asked the astonished marquis.
"Dear marquis, have we not always good friends and servants, who take a pleasure in telling bad news, and informing us of those things which they know it will give us pain to hear? Even kings have such friends, and mine eagerly acquainted me with the fact that Voltaire wished all manner of evil might befall his friend 'Luc,' as it pleased him to call me. Did he not write to D'Argental that he desired nothing more fervently than my utter humiliation and the punishment of my sins, on the same day on which he sent me an enthusiastic poem, written in honor of my victory at Leuthen? Did he not write on another occasion to Richelieu, that the happiest day of his life would be that on which the French entered Berlin as conquerors, and destroyed the capital of the treacherous king who dared to write to him twice every month the tenderest and most flattering things, without dreaming of reinstating him as chamberlain with the pension of six thousand thalers? He wished that I might suffer 'la damnation eternelle,' and proudly added. 'Vous voyez, que dans la tragedie je veux toujours que le crime soit puni.'"
"Yes," replied D'Argens, "and at the same time he wrote here to Formay: 'Votre roi est toujours un homme unique, etonnant, inimitable; il fait des vers charmants dans de temps ou un autre ne pourrait faire un ligne de prose, il merite d'etre heureux.'"
The king laughed aloud. "Well, and what does that prove, that Voltaire is the greatest and most unprejudiced of poets?"
"That proves, sire, that he is a false, perfidious man, a faithless ungrateful friend. All his great poetical gifts weigh as nothing in the scale against the weakness and wickedness of his character. I can no longer admire him as a poet, because I despise him so utterly as a man."
"You are too hard, marquis," said Frederick, laughing. "Voltaire has a great mind, but a small heart, and that is, after all, less his fault than his Creator's. Why should we wish to punish him, when he is innocent? Why should we demand of a great poet that he shall be a good man? We will allow him to have a bad heart, he can account to Madame Denis for that; and if we cannot love him, we can at least admire him as a poet. We can forgive much wickedness in men, if it is redeemed by great virtues."
"Ah, sire, that is very sad," sad D'Argens, "and could only be uttered by one who had the most profound love or the greatest contempt for mankind."
"Perhaps the two are combined in me," said the king. "As Christ said of the Magdalen, 'She has loved much, much will be forgiven her,' so let us say of Voltaire. He has written much, much will be forgiven him. He has lately rendered an immortal service, for which I could almost love him, were it possible to love him at all. He undertook with bold courage the defence of the unhappy Jean Calas, who was murdered by fanatical French priests. The priests, perhaps, will condemn him; we, however, honor him."
"Did not your majesty do the same thing?" asked D'Argens. "Did you not also take pity on the unhappy family of Jean Calas? Did you not send them a considerable amount of money and offer them an asylum in your dominions?"
"That I did, certainly; but what is that in comparison with what Voltaire has done? He gave them the strength of his mind and his work, his best possession, while I could only give them gold. Voltaire's gift was better, more beautiful, and I will now take a vow for his sake, that the persecuted and oppressed shall always find aid and protection in my land, and that I will consider liberty of spirit a sacred thing as long as I live. Freedom of thought shall be a right of my subjects. I will call all free and liberal minded persons to come to me, for liberty of thought brings liberty of will, and I prefer to rule a thinking people, to a mass of thoughtless slaves, who follow me through stupid obedience. Prussia shall be the land of liberty and enlightenment. The believers and the unbelievers, the pietists and the atheists may speak alike freely; the spirit of persecution shall be forever banished from Prussia."
"Amen," cried D'Argens solemnly, as he glanced at the excited, beaming countenance of the king. "The spirit of love and of freedom hears your words, my king, and they will be written with a diamond-point in the history of Prussia."
"And now, marquis," said the king, "we will visit my library, and then we will repose ourselves that we may enjoy our meal. In the evening I invite you to the concert. My musicians are coming from Berlin, and we will see if my lips, which have been accustomed so long to rough words of discipline, are capable of producing a few sweet notes from my flute."
Thus speaking, the king took the arm of the marquis, and they passed slowly through the room, whose desolate silence made them both sad.
"The world is nothing more than a great, gaping grave, on the brink of which we walk with wild courage," said the king, softly. "There is no moment that some one does not stumble at our side and fall into the abyss, and we have the courage to continue in the path until our strength fails and we sink, making room for another. Almost all of those who formerly occupied these rooms have vanished. How long will it be ere I shall follow them?"
"May that wretched moment be very distant!" exclaimed D'Argens, with a trembling voice. "Your majesty is still so young and full of life—you have nothing to do with death."
"No," said the king; "I am very old, for I have become indifferent to the world. Things which would have deeply distressed me formerly, now pass unheeded over my soul. I assure you, marquis, I have made great progress in practical philosophy. I am old; I stand at the limits of life, and my soul is freeing itself from this world, which, it is to be hoped, I will soon leave."
"Ah, sire," said D'Argens, smiling, "you are ten years younger than I am, and each time that you speak of your rapidly advancing age, I ask myself how it is possible that a man so much younger than I should complain of old age. Only wait, sire; here, in the quiet of Sans-Souci, in a few months you will feel ten and I fifteen years younger. In the happiness and comforts of our existence, you will live to the age of Abraham and I to that of Jacob."
"But I am much older than you, marquis. During the last seven years, I have had nothing but destroyed hopes, undeserved misfortunes, in short, all that the caprice of Fortune could discover to distress me. After such experiences it is allowable, when one is fifty years old, to say that he is old, that he will no longer be the play-thing of Fortune, that he renounces ambition and all those follies which are merely the illusions of inexperienced youth. But no more of these sad thoughts, for here we are at last at the door of my tusculum. Fold your hands, you unbelieving son of the Church; the gods and heroes await us in this temple, and you will at least believe in these."
They entered the library, and as the door closed behind them and they were separated from the whole world, as they stood in the centre of the room whose only ornament consisted of rows of books, upon which glittered in golden letters the names of the great minds of all ages, whose only splendor consisted in the marble busts of Caesar and Virgil, of Cicero and Alexander, the king said, with beaming eyes:
"I am at last in the republic of minds, and I, as a humble citizen, approach the great presidents, who look down so graciously upon me."
And, as the king seated himself in his arm-chair before his writing table, he recovered his sparkling humor, his gay wit, and recounted with a bright smile to the marquis that he intended to work most industriously, that he would certainly write a history of this war which he had just closed, and that he intended always to live at Sans-Souci, as its quiet and repose seemed more agreeable to him than the noise and turmoil of the great city. He then dismissed the marquis for a short time, that he might rest before going to the table.
But the king did not rest. Too many and too powerful thoughts were surging in his breast. Leaning back in his arm-chair, he thought of the future. He recalled his own life and arranged his future course. After sitting thus for a long time, he suddenly arose, his countenance bright with a firm and energetic expression.
"Yes, thus it shall be," he said aloud. "I will be the father of my people. I will live for them, forgetting the wickedness of men, or only avenging myself on them by the prickings of a needle. I have no family, therefore my people shall be my family. I have no children, therefore every one who needs my aid shall become my child, and for them I will do the duties of a father. My country bleeds from a thousand wounds—to heal these wounds shall be the task of my life."
True to this resolution, the king called together his ministers the next day, and commanded them to obtain exact accounts of the condition of his provinces; to inform him of the wants and necessities of the people; and to assist him in relieving them. True to this resolution, the king was untiring in his work for the good of his people. He wished to see all, to prove all. He desired to be the source from which his subjects received all their strength and power.
Therefore he must know all their griefs—he must lend an open ear to all their demands.
His first command was, that any one who asked for an interview should be admitted. And when one of his ministers dared to express his astonishment at this order. "It is the duty of a king," said Frederick, "to listen to the request of the most insignificant of his subjects. I am a regent for the purpose of making my people happy. I do not dare close my ears to their complaints." And he listened sympathizingly to the sorrows of his people, and his whole mind and thoughts were given to obtain their alleviation. He was always willing to aid with his counsel and his strength. Untiring in the work, he read every letter, every petition, and examined every answer which was written by his cabinet council. He and he alone, was the soul of his government.
A new life began to reign in this land, of which he was the soul. He worked more than all of his ministers or servants, and music and science were his only pleasure and recreation. He was a hero in peace as well as in war. He did not require, as others do, the distraction of gay pleasures. Study was his chief recreation—conversation with his friends was his greatest pleasure. Even the hunt, the so-called "knightly pleasure," had no charms for him.
"Hunting," said the king, "is one of the senseless pleasures which excites the body but leaves the mind unemployed. We are more cruel than the wild beasts themselves. He who can murder an innocent animal in cold blood, would find it impossible to show mercy to his fellow-man. Is hunting a proper employment for a thinking creature? A gentleman who hunts can only be forgiven if he does so rarely, and then to distract his thoughts from sad and earnest business matters. It would be wrong to deny sovereigns all relaxation, but is there a greater pleasure for a monarch than to rule well, to enrich his state, and to advance all useful sciences and arts? He who requires other enjoyments is to be pitied."
CHAPTER V. THE ENGRAVED CUP.
Princess Amelia was alone in her boudoir—she was ever alone. She lay upon the sofa, gazed at the ceiling, and in utter despair reflected upon her miserable fate. For years she had looked anxiously forward to the conclusion of this unhappy war in which Austria and Prussia were so fiercely opposed. So long as they were active enemies, Trenck must remain a prisoner. But she had said to herself, "When peace is declared, the prisoners of war will be released, and Maria Theresa will demand that her captain, Frederick von Trenck, be set at liberty."
Peace had been declared four months, and Trenck still lay in his subterranean cell at Magdeburg. All Europe was freed from the fetters of war. Trenck alone was unpardoned and forgotten. This thought made Amelia sad unto death, banished sleep from her couch, and made her a restless, despairing wanderer during the day. Amelia had no longer an object—the last ray of hope was extinguished. Peace had been concluded and Trenck was forgotten! God had denied her the happiness of obtaining Trenck's freedom; He would not even grant her the consolation of seeing him released through others. For nine years Trenck had languished in prison—for nine years Amelia's only thought, only desire, was to enable him to escape. Her life was consecrated to this one object. She thought not of the gold she had sacrificed—she had offered up not only her entire private fortune, but had made debts which her income was utterly inadequate to meet. Money had no value except as it was consecrated to her one great aim. She felt now that her heart had been crushed and broken in her useless efforts-that her hopes were trampled in the dust, and her existence worthless. Peace had visited all hearts but hers with new assurance of hope. It brought to her nothing but despair and desolation. While all others seemed to recommence life with fresh courage and confidence, Amelia withdrew to her apartments, brooding in dark discontent—hating all those who laughed and were glad-spurning from her with angry jealousy the contented and happy. The world was to her a vast tomb, and she despised all those who had the mad and blasphemous courage to dance on its brink.
Amelia avenged herself on those who avoided her, by pursuing them with spiteful jests and bitter sarcasm, hoping in this way to be relieved wholly from their presence. She wished to be alone and always alone. Her soul within her was desolate, and the outward world should take the same dark hue. She lived like a prisoner secluded in her own apartments; and when some great court festival compelled her to appear in public, she revenged herself by wounding all who approached her. The sufferings of others were a balsam to her heart, and she convinced herself that the pain she inflicted assuaged her own torments.
Amelia was alone; her maid of honor had just read aloud one of Moliere's biting, satirical comedies, and received leave of absence for a few hours. The princess had also dismissed her chamberlain till dinner, and he had left the castle; only two pages waited in the anteroom, which was separated by two chambers from the boudoir. Amelia had the happy consciousness of being alone in her grief, and, fearing no disturbance, she could sigh and lament aloud. She dared give words to her rage and her despair; there were no other listeners than these dead, voiceless walls—they had been long her only confidants. The stillness was suddenly broken by a gentle knock at the door, and one of the pages entered.
With a frightened look, and begging earnestly to be pardoned for having dared to disturb the princess, he informed her that a stranger was without, who pleaded eagerly to be admitted.
"What does he wish?" said Amelia, roughly. "I have neither office nor dignity to bestow, and, at present, I have no money! Tell him this, and he will go away cheerfully."
"The stranger says he is a jeweller, your highness," said the page. "It is of great importance to him that you should look at his collection of gems; and if you will have the goodness to purchase a few trifles, you will make them the fashion in Berlin, and thus make his fortune."
"Tell him he is a fool!" said Amelia, with a coarse laugh; "I have no desire to see his jewels! Dismiss him, and do not dare disturb me again. Well, why do you hesitate? Why are you still here?"
"Ah, princess, the poor man begs so earnestly for admittance; he says your highness knew him at Magdeburg, and that the governor, the Landgrave of Hesse, expressly charged him to show the jewels to your highness."
These magical words aroused Amelia from her apathy. With a quick movement she arose from the sofa; she was endowed with new energy and vitality; she advanced toward the door, then paused, and looked silent and thoughtful.
"Admit the stranger!" said she, "I will see his treasures."
The page left the room, and Amelia gazed after him breathlessly, and with a loudly-beating heart. It seemed to her an eternity before the stranger entered.
A tall, slender man, in simple but elegant costume, approached. He stood at the door, and bowed profoundly to the princess. Amelia looked at him steadily, and sighed deeply; she did not know this man. Again her hopes had deceived her.
"You said the Landgrave of Hesse sent you to me?" said she, roughly.
"Yes, princess," said the man; "he commanded me to seek your highness as soon as I arrived in Berlin, and show you my collection, in order that you might have the privilege of selecting before all others."
Amelia looked once more questioningly and fiercely upon the stranger, but he remained cold and indifferent.
"Well, sir, show me your gems!"
He placed a large casket upon a table in the middle of the room; he then unlocked it, and threw back the lid. In the different compartments, splendid jewels of wondrous beauty were to be seen—rings, pins, bracelets, and necklaces of rare workmanship and design.
"Diamonds," cried Amelia, contemptuously; "nothing but diamonds!"
"But diamonds of a strange fire and wondrous design," said the strange jeweller. "Will not your highness graciously draw nearer, and observe them?"
"I have no use for them: I wear no diamonds!" said Amelia: "if you have nothing else to show me, close the casket; I shall make no purchase."
"I have, indeed, other and rarer treasures; some beautiful carved work, by Cellini, some ivory carving of the middle ages, and a few rare and costly cameos. Perhaps these may please the taste of your highness?"
The jeweller raised the first compartment, and taking out a number of beautiful and costly articles, he laid them upon the table, explained the workmanship and design of each piece, and called the attention of the princess to their wondrous beauty.
Amelia listened carelessly to his words. These things had no interest for her; she looked only at one object—a round packet, rolled in paper, which the stranger had taken with the other articles from the casket; this must be something particularly costly. It was carefully wrapped in silk paper, while every thing else lay confusedly together, and yet this seemed the only treasure which the jeweller did not seem disposed to exhibit. Amelia, however, remarked that he raised this mysterious packet several times, as if it was in his way; changed its place, but every time brought it nearer to her. It now lay immediately in front of her.
"What does that paper contain?" said she.
"Oh, that has no interest for your royal highness; that is a worthless object! Will you have the goodness to examine this seal? It represents the holy Saint Michael, treading the dragon under his feet, and it is one of the most successful and beautiful works of Benvenuto Cellini."
Amelia did not look at the seal; she stretched out her hand toward the mysterious packet, and giving a searching look at the jeweller, she raised and opened it.
"A cup! a tin cup!" she exclaimed, in astonishment.
"As I remarked to your highness, a worthless object; unless the rare beauty of the workmanship should give it some value. The carving is indeed beautiful and most wonderful, when you know that it was done with a common nail, and not even in daylight, but in the gloom and darkness of a subterranean cell."
Amelia trembled so violently, that the cup almost fell from her hand. The stranger did not remark her emotion, but went on quietly.
"Observe, your highness, how finely and correctly the outlines are drawn; it is as artistically executed as the copperplate of a splendid engraving. It is greatly to be regretted that we cannot take impressions from this tin cup; they would make charming pictures. The sketches are not only well executed, but they are thoughtfully and pathetically conceived and illustrated with beautiful verses, which are worthy of a place in any album. If your highness takes any interest in such trifles, I beg you will take this to the light and examine it closely."
The princess did not answer: she stepped to the window, and turning her back to the jeweller, looked eagerly at the cup.
It was, indeed, a masterpiece of art and industry. The surface was divided by small and graceful arabesques into ten departments, each one of which contained an enchanting and finely-executed picture. No chisel could have drawn the lines more correctly or artistically, or produced a finer effect of light and shade. Under each picture there was a little verse engraved in such fine characters, that they could only be deciphered with difficulty.
Amelia's eyes seemed to have recovered the strength and power of earlier days. A youthful, vigorous soul lay in the glance which was fixed upon this cup; she understood every thing.
There was a cage with an imprisoned bird; beneath this a verse:
"Ce n'est pas un moineau, Garde dans cette cage, C'est un de ces oiseaux, Qui chantent dans L'orage. Ouvrez, amis des sages, Brisez fers et verroux; Les chants dans vos bocages, Rejailliront pour vous."
[Footnote: "This is not a sparrow Kept in this cage. It is one of those birds Who sing in storms. Open, friend of the wise, Break iron and bolts, The songs in your woods Shall fly back to you."]
In the next compartment was again a cage, containing a bird, and on the branch of a tree under which the cage was placed, perched another bird, with fluttering wings and open beak; underneath was written—
"Le rossignol chante, voici la raison, Pourquoi il est pris pour chanter en prison; Voyez le moineau qui fait tant de dommage, Jouir de la vie sans craindre la cage. Voila un portrait, Qui montre l'effet Du bonheur des fripons du desastre des sages."
[Footnote: "The nightingale sings, and this is the reason That he is taken to sing in a prison. See now the sparrow, who does so much evil, Plays with life without fear of cages. See in this portrait, Which shows the effect Of the good luck of rogues, and the misfortune of sages."]
Amelia could not control herself; she could look no longer. She rarely wept, but now her eyes were filled with tears. They fell upon the cup, as if to kiss the letters which had recalled so many touching and sad remembrances. But she had no time for tears, she must read on! With an involuntary movement, she dashed the tears from her eyes, and fixed them steadily upon the cup.
Here was another picture. In a cell lay a skeleton form, the hands and the feet bound with heavy chains. The figure had raised itself slightly from the straw bed and gazed with an agonized expression at the grating in the wall, behind which the grim-bearded face of a soldier was seen, who, with wide-open mouth seemed to be calling angrily to the prisoner. Beneath this stood some verses in German. [Footnote: See memoirs of Trenck, Thiebault, in which Trenck describes one of these cups and the fate which befell it. One of them was engraved for the Landgrave of Hesse, and in this way fell into the hands of the Emperor Joseph the Second, who kept it in his art cabinet. Another, which had been once in possession of the wife of Frederick the Great, Trenck afterward recovered in Paris. Some of these cups are still to be seen in art collections in Germany, and some are in the museum in Berlin.] "Oh fearful! most fearful!" sobbed Amelia; and, completely overcome, her head sank upon her breast. She cared not that the strange jeweller saw her tears and heard the despairing cry of her heart; she had nothing to fear; she had no more to lose. The assembled world might hear and see her great grief. But no, no; this must not be. His agony, his tortures, might perhaps be increased to punish her through him! She must not weep; she must not complain. Trenck lived; although in prison and in chains, he still lived; so long as he lived, she must conquer the despair of her heart.
As she thought thus, she dried her tears, and raised her head with proud resolve. She would be calm and self-possessed; perhaps this man, sent to her by the landgrave, had something still to say to her. She half turned her head toward him; he appeared not to be thinking of her, but was quietly engaged placing his treasures again in his casket.
"Can you tell me who engraved this cup?"
"Certainly, your royal highness. A poor prisoner, who has been confined for nine years in a subterranean cell in the fortress of Magdeburg, engraved it. He is called Frederick von Trenck. Your highness has perhaps never heard the name, but in Magdeburg every child knows it, and speaks it with wonder and admiration! No one has seen him, but every one knows of his daring, his heroism, his unfaltering courage, and endurance, his herculean strength, and his many and marvellous attempts to escape. Trenck is the hero of the nursery as well as the saloon. No lady in Magdeburg is acquainted with him, but all are enthusiastic in his praise, and all the officers who know him love and pity him. Many are ready to risk their lives for him!"
The princess sighed deeply, and a ray of joy and hope lighted up her countenance. She listened with suppressed breath to the jeweller's words—they sounded like far-off music, pleasant but mournful to the soul.
The stranger continued: "Some time since, in order to dispel the tediousness of his prison-life, he began to engrave poems and figures upon his tin cup with a nail which he had found in the earth while making his last attempt to undermine the floor of his cell. During one of his visits of observation, the commandant discovered this cup; he was delighted with the engravings, took the cup and sent Trenck another, hoping he would continue the exercise of his art. Trenck seized the occasion joyfully, and since then he has been constantly occupied as an engraver. Every officer desires to have a cup engraved by him, as a souvenir. Every lady in Magdeburg longs for one, and prefers it to the most costly jewel. These cups are now the mode—indeed, they have become an important article in trade. If one of the officers can be induced to sell his cup, it will cost twenty louis d'or. Trenck gets no money for his work, but he has gained far greater advantages. These cups give him the opportunity of making known to the world the cruel tortures to which he is subject; they have given him speech, and replaced the writing materials of which they have deprived him. They have answered even a better and holier purpose than this," said the jeweller, in a low voice, "they have procured him light and air. In order to give him sufficient light for his work, the officers open the doors into the first corridor, in which there is a large window; one of the upper panes of this window is open every morning. As the days are short in the casemates, the commandant looks through his fingers, when the officers bring lights to the poor prisoner. Trenck feels as if his wretched prison-cell was now changed into the atelier of an artist."
Amelia was silent and pressed the cup tenderly to her lips; the stranger did not regard her, but continued his recital quietly.
"An officer of the garrison told me all this, your highness, when he sold me this cup. They make no secret of their admiration and affection for Trenck; they know they would be severely punished if the higher authorities discovered that they allowed Trenck any privileges or alleviations, but they boast of it and consider it a humane action."
"May God reward them for it!" sighed Amelia. "I will buy this cup, sir. I do not wish to be behind the ladies of Magdeburg, and as it is the mode to possess a cup engraved by Trenck, I will take this. Name your price."
The jeweller was silent for a moment, then said:
"Pardon me, your highness, I dare not sell you this cup, or rather I implore your highness not to desire it. If possible, I will make it an instrument for Trenck's release."
"How can this be done?" said Amelia, breathlessly.
"I will take this cup to General Riedt, the Austrian ambassador in Berlin. As all the world is interesting itself for Trenck, I do not see why I should not do the same, and endeavor to obtain his release. I shall therefore go to General Riedt with this cup. I am told he is a noble gentleman and a distant relation of Trenck; he cannot fail to sympathize with his unfortunate cousin. When he hears of his cruel sufferings he will certainly strive to deliver him. General Riedt is exactly the man to effect this great object; he is thoroughly acquainted with all the by-ways and intrigues of the court of Vienna. Maria Theresa classes him among her most trusted confidants and friends. Whoever desires to free Trenck must consult with General Riedt and win him."
Amelia raised her head and looked up quickly at the stranger; his eyes were fixed upon her with a searching and significant expression; their glances met and were steadily fixed for one moment, then a scarcely perceptible smile flitted over the face of the jeweller, and the princess nodded her head. Each felt that they were understood.
"Have you nothing more to say?" said Amelia.
"No, your highness, I have only to beg you will pardon me for not selling you this cup. I must take it to General Riedt."
"Leave it with me," said Amelia, after a few moments' reflection. "I myself will show it to him and seek to interest him in the fate of his unhappy relative. If I succeed, the cup is mine, and you will not wish to sell it to General Riedt Do you agree to this? Go, then, and return to me at this hour to-morrow, when I will either pay you the price of the cup, or return it to you, if I am so unhappy as to fail."
The jeweller bowed profoundly. "I will punctually obey your highness's commands. To-morrow at this hour I will be here."
The stranger took his casket and left the room. The princess gazed after him till the door closed.
"That man is silent and discreet, I believe he can be trusted," she murmured. "I will write at once, and desire an interview with General Riedt."
CHAPTER VI. THE PRINCESS AND THE DIPLOMATIST.
An hour later the page of the princess announced General von Riedt, Austrian ambassador at the court of Berlin. Amelia advanced to meet him, and gazed with a sharp, piercing glance at the general, who bowed respectfully before her.
"I have sent for you, general," said the princess, "to repair an injury. You have been announced twice, and both times I declined receiving you."
"That was no injury, your royal highness," said the general, smiling. "I ventured to call on you because etiquette demands that a new ambassador should introduce himself to every member of the royal house. Your royal highness declined to receive me, it was not agreeable, and you were perfectly justifiable in closing your doors against me."
"And now you must wonder why I have sent for you?"
"I never allow myself to wonder. Your order for me to come has made me happy—that is sufficient."
"You have no suspicion why I sent for you?"
"Your royal highness has just informed me you kindly wished to indemnify me for my two former visits."
"You are a good diplomatist; you turn quickly about, are as smooth as an eel, cannot be taken hold of, but slip through one's fingers. I am accustomed to go at once to the point—I cannot diplomatize. See here, why I wished to see you—I wished to show you this cup."
She took the cup hastily from the table, and gave it to the ambassador. He gazed at it long and earnestly; he turned it around, looking at every picture, reading every verse. Amelia watched him keenly, but his countenance betrayed nothing. He was as smiling, as unembarrassed as before. When he had looked at it attentively, he placed it on the table.
"Well, what do you think of the workmanship?" said Amelia.
"It is wonderful, worthy of an artist, your royal highness."
"And do you know by what artist it was made?"
"I suspect it, your royal highness."
"Give me his name?"
"I think he is called Frederick von Trenck."
"It is so, and if I do not err, he is your relative?"
"My distant relative—yes, your royal highness."
"And can you bear to have your relative in chains? Does not your heart bleed for his sufferings?"
"He suffers justly, I presume, or he would not have been condemned."
"Were he the greatest criminal that lived, it would still be a crime to make him suffer perpetually. A man's sleep is sacred, be he a criminal or a murderer. Let them kill the criminal, but they should not murder sleep. Look at this picture, general; look at this prisoner lying upon the hard floor; he has been torn from his dreams of freedom and happiness by the rough voice of the soldier standing at his door. Read the verse beneath it—is not every word of it bathed in tears? Breathes there not a cry of terror throughout so fearful, so unheard-of, that it must resound in every breast? And you, his relative, you will not hear him? You will do nothing to free this unfortunate man from his prison? You, the Austrian ambassador, suffer an officer of your empress to remain a prisoner in a strange land, without a trial, without a hearing."
"When my empress sent me here, she gave me her instructions, and she informed me of the extent and character of my duties. She did not request me to exert myself for the release of this unfortunate prisoner, that is entirely beyond my sphere of action, and I must be discreet."
"You must be careful and discreet when the life of a man, a relative, is concerned? You have, then, no pity for him?"
"I pity him deeply, your royal highness, but can do nothing more."
"Perhaps not you! Perhaps another! Perhaps I?"
"I do not know if your royal highness interests herself sufficiently in the prisoner to work for him."
"You know not whether I interest myself sufficiently in Trenck to serve him," cried Amelia, with a harsh laugh. "You well know it; the whole world knows it; no one dares speak of it aloud, for fear of the king's anger, but it is whispered throughout the whole land why Trenck languishes in prison. You, you alone, should be ignorant of it! Know, then, that Trenck is imprisoned because I love him! Yes, general, I love him! Why do you not laugh, sir? Is it not laughable to hear an old, wrinkled, broken-down creature speak of love—to see a wan, trembling form, tottering to her grave on a prop of love? Look at this horribly disfigured countenance. Listen to the rough, discordant voice that dares to speak of love, and then laugh, general, for I tell you I love Trenck. I love him with all the strength and passion of a young girl. Grief and age have laid a fearful mask upon my countenance, but my heart is still young, there burns within it an undying, a sacred flame. My thoughts, my desires are passionate and youthful, and my every thought, my every desire is for Trenck. I could tell you of all the agony, all the despair I have endured for his sake, but it would be useless. There is no question of my sufferings, but of his who through me has lost his youth and his freedom—his all! Nine years he has lain in prison; for nine years my one aim has been to release him. My existence, my soul, my heart, are bound up in his prison walls. I only live to release him. Though I have ceased to look for human assistance, my heart still prays earnestly to God for some way of escape. If you know any such, general, show it to me, and were it strewed with thorns and burning irons, I would wander upon it in my bare feet."
She raised her hands and fixed an imploring glance upon the general, who had listened to her in silence. When she had ceased speaking, he raised his head and looked at her. Amelia could have cried aloud for joy, for two bright, precious tears gleamed in his eye.
"You weep," cried she; "you have some pity."
The general took her hand, and kneeling reverentially before her he said: "Yes, I weep, but not over you. I weep over your great, self-sacrificing soul. I do not pity you—your grief is too great, too sacred—it is above pity. But I bow profoundly before you, for your suffering is worthy of all reverence. To me you appear much more beautiful than all the women of this court who dance giddily through life. It is not the diplomatist but the man who kneels before you and offers you his homage."
Gently Amelia bade him rise. "With a sweet, happy smile upon her lip she thanked him for his sympathy, and hoped they would be good friends and counsel with each other."
The general was silent for a few moments. "The feelings of the empress must be worked upon—she must intercede with King Frederick for Trenck. He cannot refuse her first request."
"Will you undertake to effect this?" said Amelia, hastily. "Will you intercede for your unfortunate relative?"
"I had done so long ago had it been possible. Alas, I dared not. Trenck is my relative—my request would, therefore, have been considered as that of a prejudiced person. My exalted empress possesses so strong a sense of right that it has become a rule of hers never to fulfil a request made by any of her own intimate and confidential friends for their families or relatives. She would have paid no attention to my request for Trenck's release. Moreover, I would have made enemies of a powerful and influential party at court—with a party whose wish it is that Trenck may never be released, because he would then come and demand an account of the gold, jewels, and property left him by his cousin, the colonel of the pandours, thus causing a great disturbance amongst several noble families at court. These families are continually filling the ear of the empress with accusations against the unfortunate prisoner, well knowing that he cannot defend himself. You must appear to have forgotten that poor Trenck is languishing in prison while his property is being guarded by stewards who pay themselves for their heavy labor with the old colonel's money. It is dangerous, therefore, to meddle with this wasp's nest. To serve Trenck, the interceder must be so harmless and insignificant that no one will consider it worth while to watch him, so that Trenck's enemies, not suspecting him, can place no obstacles in his path."
"Lives there such a one?" said the princess.
"Yes, your royal highness."
"Where is he? What is his name? What is he?"
"The fireman in the apartments of the empress. He is a poor Savoyard, without name, without rank, without position, but with credit and influence."
"A fireman?" cried the princess, with amazement.
"An old, ugly, deformed fellow, called by the other servants Gnome because of his stubborn silence, his want of sociability, his rough manner and voice, his caring for nothing but his service, which he performs with great method. Every morning at six he enters her majesty's apartment, makes the fire, throws back the curtain to admit the light, arranges the chairs, and then withdraws without the least noise. All this he does without committing the slightest indiscretion; always the same; never lingering beyond his time—never leaving before. He is like a clock that maintains always the same movement and sound. The empress, accustomed for thirty years to see him enter daily her apartments, has become used to his homeliness, and often in the kindness of her heart enters into conversation with him. His answers are always laconic, in a tone of perfect indifference—at times brusque, even harsh—but they have a sensible and often a deep meaning. When the empress speaks with him, he does not cease his work for a moment, and when he has finished he does not remain a minute longer, but goes without asking if she desires to continue the conversation. For thirty years he has had the same duties and has fulfilled them in the same manner. He has never been accused of a mistake—he has never been guilty of inquisitiveness or intrigue. Thus the empress has great and firm confidence in him. She is so convinced of his truth, disinterestedness, and probity, that he has gained a sort of influence over her, and as she knows that he is to be won neither by gold, flattery, promises of position and rank, she constantly asks his opinion on matters of importance, and not seldom is biassed by its strong, sensible tone."
"But if this man is so honest and disinterested, how are we to influence him?"
"We must seek to win his heart and his head. He must become interested in the fate of the unfortunate prisoner—he must become anxious for his release. When we have done this much, we can question his self-interest and offer him gold."
"Gold? This wonder of probity and truth is susceptible to bribes?"
"He never has, perhaps never may be. He himself has no desires, no necessities; but he has one weakness—his daughter. She is a young and lovely girl, whom he, in his dark distrust of all at court in the form of men, has had educated in a convent far from Vienna. She is now living with some respectable family in Vienna, but she never visits him, never enters the castle to inquire for him for fear she should be seen by some of the court gentlemen. This girl has now formed an attachment to a young doctor. They would like to marry, but he has no practice, she no money. Her father has saved nothing, but spent all his wages on her education, and has no dowry for his daughter."
"And he intends to plead with the empress for this dower?"
"If such a thought came to him he would put it away with contempt, for his only ambition consists in making no requests, receiving no gifts from the empress. Nor would he now act for this gold alone contrary to his idea of right, were his daughter to die of sorrow. As I said before, his heart and head must first be won, then only must we speak of reward."
"If this man has a heart, we cannot fail to win it when we tell him all that Trenck has suffered and still endures," cried the princess. "The agony and despair that have been heaped upon the head of one poor mortal will surely touch both head and heart. When we have succeeded, we will give his daughter a handsome dower. God has so willed it that I am right rich now, and can fulfil my promises. My pension as abbess and my salary as princess were both paid in yesterday. There is a little fortune in my desk, and I shall add more to it. Do you think four thousand louis d'or will be sufficient to win the Savoyard's heart?"
"For any other it would be more than sufficient; but to win this honest heart, your offer is not too great."
"But is it enough?"
"Now, all that we need is some sure, cunning messenger to send to him; a man whose heart and head, soul and body are bound up in the cause he advocates. General, where shall we find such a man?"
General Riedt laughed. "I thought your royal highness had already found him."
The princess looked at him in amazement.
"Ah," cried she, "the jeweller; the man who brought me the cup; who referred me to you in so wise and discreet a manner."
"I think you desired him to return early to-morrow morning?"
"How do you know that? Are you acquainted with him?"
General Riedt bowed smilingly. "I ventured to send him to your royal highness."
"Ah! I now understand it all, and must acknowledge that the jeweller is as great a negotiator as you are a diplomatist. The cup I showed you, you sent to me?"
"I received it from the Governor of Magdeburg, the Landgrave of Hesse; as I could do nothing with it, I ventured to send it to your royal highness."
"And I thank you, general, for sending it in so discreet, so wise a manner. We may, perhaps, succeed in keeping all this secret from my brother, so that he cannot act against us. Hasten away, general, and give the jeweller, or whatever else he may be, his instructions. Send him to me early in the morning for his reward." [Footnote: The princess succeeded in winning the influence of the fireman. How he succeeded with the empress, can be seen in "Thiebault's Souvenirs de Vingt Ans," vol. iv.]
CHAPTER VII. THE ROYAL HOUSE-SPY.
The next morning, a carriage drew up before the garden of Sans-Souci, and a gentleman, in a glittering, embroidered court uniform, crept out slowly and with much difficulty. Coughing and murmuring peevish words to himself, he slipped into the allee leading to the terraces. His back was bent, and from under the three-cornered hat, ornamented with rich gold lace, came sparsely, here and there, a few silver hairs. Who could have recognized, in this doubled-up, decrepit form, now with tottering knees creeping up the terrace, the once gay, careless, unconcerned grand-master of ceremonies, Baron von Pollnitz? Who could have supposed that this old weatherbeaten visage, deformed with a thousand wrinkles, once belonged to the dashing cavalier? And yet, it was even so. Pollnitz had grown old, and his back was bowed down under the yoke which the monster Time lays at last upon humanity; but his spirit remained unchanged. He had preserved his vivacity, his malice, his egotism. He had the same passion for gold—much gold; not, however, to hoard, but to lavish. His life was ever divided between base covetousness and thoughtless prodigality. When he had revelled and gormandized through the first days of every month, he was forced, during the last weeks, to suffer privation and hunger, or to borrow from those who were good-natured and credulous enough to lend him. There was also one other source of revenue which the adroit courtier knew how to use to his advantage. He was a splendid ecarte player; and, as it was his duty, as grand-master of ceremonies, to provide amusements for the court, to choose places and partners for the card-tables, he always arranged it so as to bring himself in contact with wealthy and eager card-players, from some of whom he could win, and from others borrow a few louis d'or. Besides this, since the return of the king, Pollnitz had voluntarily taken up his old trade of spy, and informed Frederick of all he saw and heard at court; for this, from time to time, he demanded a small reward.
"Curious idea," he said, as, puffing and blowing, he clambered up the terrace. "Curious idea to live in this wearisome desert, when he has respectable and comfortable castles in the midst of the city, and on a level plain. One might truly think that the king, even in life, wishes to draw nearer to heaven, and withdraws from the children of man, to pray and prepare himself for paradise."
The baron laughed aloud; it seemed to him a droll idea to look at the king as a prayerful hermit. This conception amused him, and gave him strength to go onward more rapidly, and he soon reached the upper platform of the terrace, upon which the castle stood. Without difficulty, he advanced to the antechamber, but there stood Deesen, and forbade him entrance to the king.
"His majesty holds a cabinet council," said he, "and it is expressly commanded to allow no one to enter."
"Then I will force an entrance," said Pollnitz, stepping boldly to the door. "I must speak to his majesty; I have something most important to communicate."
"I think it cannot be more important than that which now occupies the king's attention," said the intrepid Deesen. "I am commanded to allow no one to enter; I shall obey the order of the king."
"I am resolved to enter," said Pollnitz, in a loud voice; but Deesen spread his broad figure threateningly before the door. An angry dispute arose, and Pollnitz made his screeching voice resound so powerfully, he might well hope the king would hear him, and in this he was not deceived; the king heard and appeared at once upon the threshold.
"Pollnitz," said he, "you are and will always be an incorrigible fool; you are crowing as loud as a Gallic cock, who is declaring war against my people. I have made peace with the Gauls, mark that, and do not dare again to crow so loud. What do you want? Do your creditors wish to cast you in prison, or do you wish to inform me that you have become a Jew, and wish to accept some lucrative place as Rabbi?"
"No, sire, I remain a reformed Christian, and my creditors will never take the trouble to arrest me; they know that would avail nothing. I come on most grave and important matters of business, and I pray your majesty to grant me a private audience."
Frederick looked sternly at him. "Listen, Pollnitz, you are still a long-winded and doubtful companion, notwithstanding your seventy-six years. Deliberate a moment; if that which you tell me is not important, and requiring speedy attention, I will punish you severely for having dared to interrupt me in my cabinet council; I will withhold your salary for the next month."
"Your majesty, the business is weighty, and requires immediate attention; I stake my salary upon it."
"Come, then, into my cabinet, but be brief," said Frederick, stepping into the adjoining room. "Now speak," said he, as he closed the door.
"Sire, first, I must ask your pardon for daring to allude to a subject which is so old that its teeth are shaky and its countenance wrinkled."
"You wish, then, to speak of yourself?" said Frederick.
"No, sire; I will speak of a subject which bloomed before the war, and since then has withered and faded in a subterranean prison; but it now threatens to put forth new buds, to unfold new leaves, and I fear your majesty will find that undesirable."
"Speak, then, clearly, and without circumlocution. I am convinced it is only some gossiping or slander you wish to retail. You come as a salaried family spy who has snapped up some greasy morsels of scandal. Your eyes are glowing with malicious pleasure, as they always do when you are about to commit some base trick. Now, then, out with it! Of whom will you speak?"
"Of the Princess Amelia and Trenck," whispered Pollnitz.
The king gazed at him fiercely for a moment, then turned and walked silently backward and forward.
"Well, what is your narrative?" said Frederick, at last, turning his back upon Pollnitz, and stepping to the window as if to look out.
"Sire, if your majesty does not interfere, the Princess Amelia will send a negotiator to Vienna, who undertakes to induce the Empress Maria Theresa to apply to you for the release of Trenck. This negotiator is richly provided with gold and instructions; and the Austrian ambassador has pointed out to the princess a sure way to reach the ear of the empress, and to obtain an intercessor with her. She will appeal to the fireman of the empress, and this influential man will undertake to entreat Maria Theresa to ask for Trenck's release. This will take place immediately; an hour since the messenger received his instructions from General Riedt, and a quarter of an hour since he received four thousand louis d'or from the princess to bribe the fireman. If the intrigue succeeds, the princess has promised him a thousand louis d'or for himself."
"Go on," said the king, as Pollnitz ceased speaking.
"Go on!" said Pollnitz, with a stupefied air. "I have nothing more to say; it seems to me the history is sufficiently important."
"And it seems to me a silly fairy tale," said Frederick, turning angrily upon the grand-master. "If you think to squeeze gold out of me by such ridiculous and senseless narratives, you are greatly mistaken. Not one farthing will I pay for these lies. Do you think that Austria lies on the borders of Tartary? There, a barber is minister; and you, forsooth, will make a fireman the confidential friend of the empress! Why, Scheherezade would not have dared to relate such an absurd fairy tale to her sleepy sultan, as you, sir, now seek to impose upon me!"
"But, sire, it is no fairy tale, but the unvarnished truth. The page of the princess listened, and immediately repeated all that he heard to me."
"Have you paid the page for this intelligence, which he asserts he overheard?"
"Then go quickly to Berlin and reward him by two sound boxes on the ear, then go to bed and drink chamomile tea. It appears to me your head is weak."
"But, sire, I have told you nothing but the pure truth; no matter how fabulous it may appear."
Frederick gazed at him scornfully. "It is a silly tale," he cried, in a loud commanding voice. "Do not say another word, and do not dare to repeat to any one what you have now related. Go, I say! and forget this nonsense."
Pollnitz crept sighing and with bowed head to the door, but, before he opened it, he turned once more to the king.
"Sire, this is the last day of the month, this wretched October has thirty-one days. Even if in your majesty's wisdom you decide this story to be untrue, you should at least remember my zeal."
"I should reward you for your zeal in doing evil?" said Frederick, shaking his head. "But truly this is the way of the world; evil is rewarded and good actions trodden under foot. You are not worth a kick! Go and get your reward; tell my servant to give you ten Fredericks d'or—but on one condition."
"What condition?" said Pollnitz, joyfully.
"As soon as you arrive in Berlin, go to the castle, call the page of the princess, and box him soundly for his villany. Go!"
The king stood sunk in deep thought in the window-niche, long after Pollnitz had left the room; he appeared to forget that his ministers were waiting for him; he thought of his sister Amelia's long, sad life, of her constancy and resignation, and a profound and painful pity filled his heart.
"Surely I dare at length grant her the poor consolation of having brought about his release," said he to himself. "She has been so long and so terribly punished for this unhappy passion, that I will give her the consolation of plucking a few scentless blossoms from the grave of her heart. Let her turn to the fireman of the empress, and may my pious aunt be warmed up by his representations and prayers! I will not interfere; and if Maria Theresa intercedes for Trenck, I will not remember that he is a rebellious subject and a traitor, worthy of death. I will remember that Amelia has suffered inexpressibly for his sake, that her life is lonely and desolate—a horrible night, in which one feeble ray of sunshine may surely be allowed to fall. Poor Amelia! she loves him still!"
As Frederick stepped from the window and passed into the other room, he murmured to himself:
"There is something beautiful in a great, rich human heart. Better to die of grief and disappointment than to be made insensible by scorn and disdain—to be turned to stone!"
CHAPTER VIII. THE CLOUDS GATHER.
While the king lived alone and quiet in Sans-Souci, and occupied himself with his studies and his government, the gayeties and festivities continued uninterrupted in Rheinsberg. It seemed that Prince Henry had no other thought, no other desire than to prepare new pleasures, new amusements for his wife. His life had been given up for so many years to earnest cares, that he now sought to indemnify himself by an eager pursuit after pleasure. Fete succeeded fete, and all of the most elegant and accomplished persons in Berlin, all those who had any claim to youth, beauty, and amiability, were invariably welcome at the palace of the prince.
It was late in the autumn, and Prince Henry had determined to conclude the long succession of wood and garden parties by a singular and fantastic entertainment. Before they returned to the saloons, the winter-quarters of pleasure, they wished to bid farewell to Nature. The nymphs of the wood and the spring, the hamadryads of the forests, the fauns and satyrs should reign once more in the woods before they placed the sceptre in the hands of winter. The guests of Rheinsberg should once more enjoy the careless gayety of a happy day, before they returned to the winter saloons, on whose threshold Etiquette awaited them, with her forced smile, her robes of ceremony and her orders and titles.
The ladies and gentlemen had been transformed, therefore, into gods and goddesses, nymphs, and hamadryads, fauns, satyrs, and wood-spirits. The horn of Diana resounded once more in the wood, through which the enchanting huntress passed, accompanied by Endymion, who was pursued by Actaeon. There was Apollo and the charming Daphne; Echo and the vain Narcissus; and, on the bank of the lake, which gleamed in the midst of the forest, the water-nymphs danced in a fairy-circle with the tritons.
The prince had himself made all the arrangements for this fantastic fete; he had selected the character, and appointed the place of every one, and, that nothing should fail, he had ordered all to seek their pleasures and adventures as they would—only, when the horn of the goddess Diana should sound, all must appear on the shore of the lake to partake of a most luxurious meal. The remainder of the day was to be given to the voluntary pleasures which each one would seek or make for himself, and in this the ladies and gentlemen showed themselves more ingenious than usual. In every direction goddesses were to be seen gliding through the bushes to escape the snares of some god, or seeking some agreeable rendezvous. At the edge of the lake lay charming gondolas ready for those who wished to rest and refresh themselves by a sail upon the dancing waves. For the hunters and huntresses targets were placed upon the trees; all kinds of fire-arms and cross-bows and arrows lay near them. Scattered throughout the forest, were a number of small huts, entirely covered with the bark of trees, and looking like a mass of fallen wood, but comfortably and even elegantly arranged in the interior. Every one of these huts was numbered, and at the beginning of the fete every lady had drawn a number from an urn, which was to designate the hut which belonged to her. Chance alone had decided, and each one had given her word not to betray the number of her cabin. From this arose a seeking and spying, a following and listening, which gave a peculiar charm to the fete. Every nymph or goddess could find a refuge in her cabin; having entered it, it was only necessary to display the ivy wreath, which she found within, to protect herself from any further pursuit, for this wreath announced to all that the mistress of the hut had retired within and did not wish her solitude disturbed. That nothing might mar the harmony of this fete, the prince and his wife had placed themselves on an equal footing with their guests; the princess had declined any conspicuous role, and was to appear in the simple but charming costume of a wood-nymph, while the prince had selected an ideal and fanciful hunter's costume. Even in the selection of huts the Princess Wilhelmina had refused to make any choice, and had drawn her number as the others did, even refusing a glimpse of it to her husband.
This day seemed given up to joy and pleasure. Every countenance was bright and smiling, and the wood resounded with merry laughter, with the tones of the hunter's horn, the baying of the hounds, which were in Diana's train, and the singing of sweet songs. And still on how many faces the smile was assumed, how many sighs arose, with how many cares and sorrows were many of these apparently happy creatures weighed down? Even the noble brow of the goddess Diana was not so unruffled as Homer describes it, her countenance expressed care and unrest, and in her great black eyes there glowed such fire as had never shone in the orbs of the coy goddess.
See, there is the goddess Diana crossing the wood breathlessly, and hurriedly, looking anxiously around her, as if she feared the approach of some pursuers; then seeing that no one is near, she hastens forward toward the hut, which stands amidst those bushes. The ivy wreath is hanging before this cabin, but Diana does not notice this, she knows what it means and, besides, no one has a right to enter this hut but herself, for it bears the number which she drew.
As she entered, Endymion, the beautiful hunter, advanced to greet her. "At length you have come, Camilla," he whispered, gently; "at length you grant me the happiness of a private interview. Oh, it is an eternity since I beheld you. You are very cruel to me to refuse me all intercourse with you, and to leave me languishing in the distance for one glance from you."
"As if it depended on me to allow you to approach me. As if I was not guarded with argus eyes as a prisoner that is expected to break loose and vanish at any moment. How much trouble, how much cunning and deftness have I been compelled to exercise to come here now. It was a detestable idea of the princess to give me the role of Diana, for I have behind me a band of spies, and I assure you that my coy huntresses are so fearfully modest, that the sight of a man fills them with dread, and they flee before him into the wildest thicket of the woods."
"Perhaps because they have a lover concealed in the thicket," said Endymion.
Camilla laughed aloud. "Perhaps you are right. But when my huntresses fly, there still remains that horrible argus who guards me with his thousand eyes and never leaves my side. It was from pure malice that the prince gave that /role/ to my detestable stepfather, and thus fastened him upon me."
"How did you succeed in escaping the watchfulness of your argus to come here?"
"I escaped at the moment the princess was speaking to him, and my huntresses were pursuing Actaeon, which character the Baron von Kaphengst was representing with much humor. I wanted to speak with you, for I have so much to relate to you. I must open to you my broken, my unhappy heart. You are my dear, faithful cousin Kindar, and I hope you will not leave your poor cousin, but give her counsel and assistance."
Baron von Kindar took Camilla's offered hand and pressed it to his lips. "Count upon me as upon your faithful slave, who would gladly die for you, as he cannot live for your sake."
"Listen then, beau cousin," whispered Camilla, smiling. "You know that my stern, upright husband has left Berlin in order to receive the post of an ambassador at Copenhagen. I would not accompany him because I was daily expecting the birth of my child, and the little creature was so sensible as not to enter the world until after the departure of its honored father, who, before leaving, had delivered me a lecture on the subject of his fidelity and tenderness, and of my duties as a lonely wife and young mother. I was compelled to swear to him among other things that I would not receive my beau cousin at my house."
"And you took that oath?" interrupted Kindar, reproachfully.
"I was forced to do so, or he would not have gone, or he would have taken me with him. Besides this, he left behind his old confidant the tutor, and told him that you should never be allowed to visit me. And to place the crown upon his jealousy, he betrayed the secret of his suspicions to my stepfather, and demanded of him the friendly service of accompanying me to all fetes and balls, and to prevent you from approaching me."
"Am I then so dangerous?" said Kindar, with a faint smile.
"These gentlemen at least appear to think so; and if I did not care so much for you, I should really hate you, I have suffered so much on your account."
Baron von Kindar covered her hand with burning kisses for an answer to this.
"Be reasonable, beau cousin, and listen to me," said Camilla, as she laughingly withdrew her hand. "My husband has been, as I said, in Copenhagen for eight weeks, and has already entreated me to join him with the child, as I have entirely recovered."
"The barbarian!" murmured Kindar.
"I have declined up to this time under one pretext or another. But yesterday I received a letter from my husband, in which he no longer entreats me, but dares, as he himself expresses it, to command me to leave Berlin two days after the receipt of his letter."
"But that is tyranny which passes all bounds," cried Kindar. "Does this wise lord think that his wife must obey him as a slave? Ah, Camilla, you owe it to yourself to show him that you are a free-born woman, whom no one dare command, not even a husband."
"How shall I show him that?" asked Camilla.
"By remaining here," whispered Kindar. "You dare not think of leaving Berlin, for you know that the hour of your departure would be the hour of my death. You know it, for you have long known that I love you entirely, and that you owe me some recompense for the cruel pain I suffered when you married another."
"And in what shall this recompense consist?" asked Camilla with a coquettish smile.
Baron von Kindar placing his arm around her, whispered: "By remaining here, adored Camilla, for my sake—in declaring to your hated husband that you will leave Berlin on no account—that your honor demands that you should prove to him in the face of his brutal commands, that these are no commands for you—and that you will follow your own will and inclination. Therefore you will remain in Berlin."
"Will you write this letter for me?"
"If I do so, will you consent to remain here, and to open your door to me in spite of the orders of your husband, or the argus-eyes of your stepfather?"
"Write the letter, the rest will arrange itself," said Camilla.
"I will write it to-night. May I bring it to you myself to-morrow morning?"
"If I say no, will you then be so kind as to give it to my maid?"
"I swear by my honor that I will only give the letter into your own hands."
"Well, then, my tyrannical cousin, you force me to open my door to you in spite of my husband and my stepfather, and in the face of this Cerberus of a tutor who guards my stronghold."
"But what do I care for these open doors so long as your heart remains closed against me, Camilla? Ah, you laugh—you mock at my sufferings. Have you no pity, no mercy? You see what I suffer, and you laugh."
"I laugh," she whispered, "because you are so silly, beau cousin. But listen, there is the call of my huntresses—I must hasten to them, or they will surround this cabin and they might enter. Farewell. To-morrow I will expect you with the letter. Adieu." Throwing him a kiss with the tips of her fingers, she hastily left the hut.
Baron von Kindar looked after her with a singular smile. "She is mine," he whispered. "We will have a charming little romance, but it will terminate in a divorce, and not in a marriage. I have no idea of following up this divorce by a marriage. God protect me from being forced to marry this beautiful, frivolous, coquettish woman."
While this scene was taking place in one part of the forest, the fete continued gayly. They sang and laughed, and jested, and no one dreamed that dark sin was casting its cold shadow over this bright scene—that the cowardly crime of treachery had already poisoned the pure air of this forest. None suspected it less than Prince Henry himself. He was happy and content that this fete had succeeded so well—that this bright autumn day had come opportunely to his aid. The sun penetrated to his heart and made it warm and joyous. He had just made a little tour through the forest with some of his cavaliers, and had returned to the tent on the bank of the lake, where he had last seen the princess amid a bevy of nymphs, but she was no longer there, and none of the ladies knew where she had gone.
"She has retired to her hut," said the prince to himself, as he turned smilingly toward the thick woods. "The only thing is to discover her hut; without doubt she is there and expects me to seek her. Now, then, may fortune assist me to discover my beloved. I must find her if only to prove to her that my love can overcome all difficulties and penetrate every mystery. There are twenty-four huts—I know their situation. I will visit each, and it will be strange indeed if I cannot discover my beautiful Wilhelmina."
He advanced with hasty steps in the direction of the huts. By a singular coincidence they were all vacant, the ivy wreath was displayed on none, and the prince could enter and convince himself that no one was within. He had visited twenty-three of the huts without finding the object of his search. "I will go to the last one," said the prince, gayly; "perhaps the gods have led me astray only that I might find happiness at the end of my path." He saw the last hut in the distance. It nestled in the midst of low bushes, looking quiet and undisturbed, and on the door hung the ivy wreath. The heart of the prince beat with joy, and he murmured, "She is there—I have found her," as he hastened toward the hut. "No," he said, "I dare not surprise her. I must consider the law sacred which I made. The ivy wreath is before the door—no one dare enter. But I will lie down before the door, and when she comes out she roust cross my body or fall into my arms." The prince approached the hut quietly, careful to avoid making any noise. When he had reached it, he sank slowly upon the grass, and turned his eyes upon the door, which concealed his beloved one from his view.