Deep silence reigned. This was a charming spot, just suited for a tender rendezvous, and full of that sweet silence which speaks so eloquently to a loving heart. In the distance could be heard the sound of the hunter's horn, whilst the great trees rustled their leaves as though they wished to mingle their notes in the universal anthem. The prince gavo himself up for a long time to the sweet pleasures of this solitude, turning his smiling glance first to the heavens where a few white clouds were floating, and then again to earth, where some glittering insect attracted his gaze.
But what was it which pierced through him with a deadly horror—which made him become so pale, and turn his flashing eyes with an indescribable expression of dread toward the hut? Why did he partially arise from his reclining position as the hunter does, who sees the prey approach that he wishes to destroy? What was it that made him press his lips so tightly, one against the other, as if he would repress a cry of agony, or an execration? And why does he listen now with bated breath, his gaze fixed upon the hut, and both hands raised, as if to threaten an approaching enemy? Suddenly he sprang up, and rushed trembling to the door, and, while in the act of bursting it open, he fell back, pale as death, as if his foot had trodden upon a poisonous serpent. Thus retreating, with wildly staring eyes, with half-open lips, which seemed stiffened in the very act of uttering a shriek, he slowly left the hut, and then suddenly, as if he could no longer look at any thing so frightful, he turned and fled from the spot as if pursued by furies. Farther, always farther, until his strength and his breath were exhausted; then he sank down.
"It was cowardly to fly," he murmured; "but I felt that I should murder them, if they came out of the hut before my eyes. A voice within whispered, 'Fly, or you will be a murderer!' I obeyed it almost against my will. It was cowardly—an unpardonable error, but I will return to the hut."
He sprang forward like a tiger, ready to fall upon his prey. His hand involuntarily sought his side for his sword.
"Ah, I have no weapon," he said, gnashing his teeth, "I must murder them with my hands."
He advanced with uplifted head, defiant as a conqueror, or as one who has overcome death and has nothing to fear. The hut was again before him, but it no longer smiled at him; it filled him with horror and fury. Now he has reached it, and with one blow he bursts open the door; but it is empty. The prince had not remarked that the ivy-wreath was no longer displayed, and that the hut was therefore vacant.
"They are gone," he murmured. "This time they have escaped punishment, but it surely awaits them."
CHAPTER IX. BROTHER AND SISTER.
A month had passed since Amelia dispatched her emissary to the queen's fireman, and she had as yet received no definite intelligence. General Riedt had called but once; he told her he had succeeded in interesting the Savoyard in Trenck's fate, and he had promised to remind the empress of the unfortunate prisoner. But a condition must be attached to this promise: no one must approach him again on this subject; it must be kept an inviolable secret. Only when Trenck was free would the fireman receive the other half of the stipulated sum; if he failed in his attempt, he would return the money he now held.
This was all that the princess had heard from Vienna; her heart was sorrowful—almost hopeless. Trenck still sat in his wretched prison at Magdeburg, and she scarcely dared hope for his release.
It was a dark, tempestuous November day. The princess stood at the window, gazing at the whirling snow-flakes, and listening to the howling of the pitiless storm. They sounded to her like the raging shrieks of mocking, contending spirits, and filled her heart with malignant joy.
"Many ships will go down to destruction in the roaring sea; many men will lose all that they possess," she murmured, with a coarse laugh. "God sends His favorite daughter, the bride of the winds; she sings a derisive song to men; she shows them how weak, how pitiful they are. She sweeps away their possessions—touches them on that point where alone they are sensitive. I rejoice in the howling, whistling tempest! This is the voice of the great world-spirit, dashing by in the thunder, and making the cowardly hearts of men tremble. They deserve this punishment; they are utterly unworthy and contemptible. I hate, I despise them all! Only when I see them suffer can I be reconciled to them. Aha! the storm has seized a beautifully-dressed lady. How it whirls and dashes her about! Look how it lifts her robe, making rare sport of her deceitful, affected modesty. Miserable, variegated butterfly that you are, you think yourself a goddess of youth and beauty. This wild tempest teaches you that you are but a poor, pitiful insect, tossed about in the world like any other creeping thing—a powerless atom. The storm first takes possession of your clothes, now of your costly hat. Wait, my lady, wait! one day it will take your heart; it will be crushed and broken to pieces—there will be none to pity. The world laughs and mocks at the wretched. Misfortune is the only disgrace which is never forgiven. You may be a thief, a murderer, and you will be pardoned if you are adroit enough to slip your head from the noose. Criminals are pitied and pardoned, unfortunates never. Ah, this is a mad, gay world, and they are fools who take it earnestly; who do not laugh—laugh even as I do."
The princess laughed aloud—if that could be called a laugh, from which she shuddered back herself in terror.
"It is bitter cold here," she said, shuddering; "I think I shall never be warm again. I am always freezing, and this miserable frost has turned my heart and soul to ice. I would like to know if they will thaw in the grave?"
She stepped slowly from the window, and crept through the large, empty room to the chimney, where a large wood-fire was burning—now flickering up in clear flames, now breaking into glowing coals.
Amelia took the poker, and amused herself by dashing the coals apart, and watching the flashing, dancing flames. The fire seemed to embrace her whole figure, and threw a rosy shimmer over her wan and fallen cheeks. She gazed deep down into the glowing coals, and murmured broken, disconnected words. From time to time a mocking smile trembled on her lips, then heavy sighs wrung her breast. Was she perhaps telling the fire of the flames which raged within her bosom? Was she perhaps a magician, who understood the language of these mysterious tongues of flame, and answered their burning questions? The hasty opening of the door aroused her from her dreams, and a page entered and announced in a loud voice—"His majesty the king!"
Amelia bowed her head, and advanced slowly and with a stern countenance to meet the king, who now appeared at the threshold.
"May I enter, my sister, or do you command me to withdraw?" said Frederick, smiling.
"The king has no permission to ask," said Amelia, earnestly; "he is everywhere lord and master. The doors of all other prisons open before him, and so also do mine."
Frederick nodded to the page to leave the room and close the door, then advanced eagerly to meet his sister. Giving her his hands he led her to the divan, and seated himself beside her.
"You regard me then as a kind of jailer?" he said, in a gentle, loving voice.
"Can a king be any thing but a jailer?" she said, roughly. "Those who displease him, he arrests and casts into prison, and not one of his subjects can be sure that he will not one day displease him."
"You, at least, my sister, have not this to fear, and yet you have just called this your prison."
"It is a prison, sire."
"And am I, then, your jailer?"
"No, sire, life is my jailer."
"You are right, there, Amelia. Life is the universal jailer, from whom death alone can release us. The world is a great prison, and only fools think themselves free. But we are involuntarily commencing an earnest, philosophical conversation. I come to you to rest, to refresh myself; to converse harmlessly and cheerfully, as in our earlier and happier days. Tell me something, dear sister, of your life, your occupations, and your friends?"
"That is easily done, and requires but few words," said Amelia, hoarsely. "Of my life I have already told you all that can be said. Life is my jailer, and I look longingly to death, who alone can release me. As to my well-being, there is nothing to say; all is evil, only evil continually. My occupations are monotonous, I am ever asleep. Night and day I sleep and dream; and why should I awake? I have nothing to hope, nothing to do. I am a superfluous piece of furniture in this castle, and I know well you will all rejoice when I am placed in the vault. I am an old maid, or, if you prefer it, I am a wall-frog, who has nothing to do but creep into my hole, and, when I have vitality enough, to spit my venom upon the passers-by. As to my friends, I have nothing to relate; I have no friends! I hate all mankind, and I am hated by all. I am especially on my guard with those who pretend to love me; I know that they are deceitful and traitorous, that they are only actuated by selfish motives."
"Poor sister," said the king, sadly; "how unhappy must you be to speak thus! Can I do nothing to alleviate your misfortune?"
Amelia laughed loudly and scornfully. "Forgive me, your majesty, but your question reminds me of a merry fairy tale I have just read of a cannibal who is in the act of devouring a young girl. The poor child pleaded piteously for her life, naturally in vain. 'I cannot, of course, give you your life,' said the cannibal, 'but I will gladly grant you any other wish of your heart. Think, then, quickly, of what you most desire, and be assured I will fulfil your request.' The pretty maiden, trembling with horror and despair, could not collect her thoughts. Then, after a short pause, the cannibal said, 'I cannot wait; I am hungry! but in order to grant you a little longer time to determine upon the favor you will ask, I will not, as I am accustomed to do, devour the head first, I will commence with the feet.' So saying, he cut off the legs and ate them, and on cutting off each limb he graciously asked the poor shuddering, whimpering being, 'Well, why do you not think? Is there, then, no favor I can show you?' Confess now, sire, that this was a most magnanimous cannibal."
Frederick laughed heartily, and appeared not to understand his sister's double meaning.
"You are right," said he; "that is a merry fairy tale, and brings the tears to my eyes—I scarcely know whether from laughter or weeping. Where did you read it, my sister?"
"The fire-spirits who spring up and down in the chimney so lustily, related it to me. Oh, sire, these are merry sprites; and often in my solitude, when I am sitting in my arm-chair in the chimney-corner, they nod to me, and chat freely of by-gone times, and the days which are to come."
"I fear they have not much that is cheerful or encouraging, certainly not much that is interesting to tell you," said Frederick.
"To those who, like us, have passed the meridian of life, and are going rapidly down-hill, the surroundings become ever duller and more drear; for us there are no more great and agreeable surprises; the farther they advance, the more lonely and desolate it appears; life has no more to offer, and they are glad at last to reach the valley and lie down in quiet graves. But while we live and are still wanderers, Amelia, we must not fold our hands in idleness; we must work and achieve. You also, my sister, must be active and energetic; an unusual opportunity is now offered you. The Abbess of Quedlinberg is dead, and you can now enter upon her duties."
"And your majesty thinks it is really a worthy vocation for me to go to Quedlinberg and become the shepherdess of that fearful flock of old maids who took refuge in a nunnery because no man desired them? No, your majesty, do not send me to Quedlinberg; it is not my calling to build up the worthy nuns into saints of the Most High. I am too unsanctifled myself to be an example to them, and, in fact, I feel no inclination to purify them from their sins."
"Well, that might be found a difficult task," said the king, laughing, "and it would not make you beloved. Men love nothing so much as their vices, and they hate those who would free them from their cherished yoke. You can, however, remain in Berlin and still accept this office, once so worthily rilled by the lovely Aurora of Konigsmark. King Augustus gave her, at least, with this refuge, provided by his love, a rich widow's income; and you can now, Amelia, enjoy the fruit of that love which at one time filled all Europe with admiration. The salary of the abbess amounts to seventeen thousand thalers, and I think this addition to your fortune will be welcome. Your income will now be forty thousand thalers."
"Lodging and fuel included," said Amelia, with a sarcastic laugh. "Look you, sire, I see that I have nothing to complain of. My hospital is splendidly endowed, and if I should ever become miserly, I may be able to lay aside a few thalers yearly."
"I will gladly put it in your power to lay aside a larger sum, if you become covetous," said the king; "and I beg you, therefore, to allow me the pleasure of raising your salary as princess, six thousand thalers." [Footnote: History of Berlin and Court.]
Amelia looked at him distrustfully. "You are very gracious to me to-day, my brother. You grant favors before I ask them. I confess to you this alarms and agitates me. You have perhaps some bad news to disclose, and fearing I will be crushed by it, you desire, beforehand, to apply a balsam."
The king's glance was tender and sympathetic. "Poor Amelia! you will, then, never believe in my affection," said he, mildly. "You distrust even your brother! Oh, Amelia! life has hardened us both. We entered upon the stage of life with great but fleeting illusions. How gloriously grand and beautiful did the world appear to us; now we look around us soberly, almost hopelessly! What remains of our ideals? What has become of the dreams of our youth?"
"The storm-winds have shattered and scattered them," cried Amelia, laughing. "The evil fiend has ploughed over the fair soil of your youth and turned it to stone and ashes. I am content that this is so I would rather wander amongst ruins and dust and ashes than to walk gayly over a smooth surface with whose dark caves and pitfalls I was unacquainted, and which might any day ingulf me. When both foundation and superstructure lie in ruins at your feet, you have nothing more to fear. But I say this for myself, sire, not for you, the fame-crowned king, who has astonished the world by his victories, and now fills it with admiration by the wisdom with which he governs his subjects and advances the glory of his kingdom!"
"My child," said the king, mildly, "fame has no longer any attraction for me. Nero was also renowned; he burned cities and temples, and tortured Seneca to death. Erostratus succeeded in making his name imperishable I am utterly indifferent as to the world's admiration of my wisdom and power to govern. I try to do my duty as a king. But I tell you, child, in one little corner of the king's heart there remains ever something human, and the poor creature man sometimes cries out for a little personal comfort and happiness. One may be very rich as a king, but poor—oh, how poor—as a man! Let us, however, dismiss these sad thoughts. I was speaking to you of money, Amelia. We will return to this theme. I cannot prevent your heart from suffering, but I can secure to you every outward good. Your income, until now, has been small; tell me what debts you have contracted, and I will pay them!"
"Your majesty falls into my room like a shower of gold," cried Amelia; "you will find no Danae here, only an ugly old maid, who is, however, ready to receive the glittering treasure; but you give me credit for too good a memory when you think I know the amount of my debts. I only know the sum now in my casket."
"And what is the amount, Amelia?"
"A cipher, sire; your majesty knows this is the end of the month."
"I know it, my sister; and I therefore beg you to accept from me to-day a small sum in advance. I dreamt last night that you had recently been called upon to pay out four thousand louis d'or. This dream was significant; it seemed to me a suggestion to give you this sum. I therefore sent, in your name, an order on my treasurer for four thousand louis d'or."
Amelia looked at him and trembled with terror. "Do you know the use to which I have applied this sum?" said she, breathlessly.
"My dream was silent on this point," said Frederick, rising; "it only told me that you needed this amount, nothing more. If I had been curious, I might have asked your page, who has an acute ear, and for whom no key-hole is too small."
"Ah, he has betrayed me, then," murmured Amelia.
Frederick did not appear to hear her; he took his hat, and offered his sister his hand. Amelia did not see it, she stood as if turned to stone in the middle of the room, and as the king advanced toward the door, she stepped slowly and mechanically after him.
Suddenly the king turned and looked at his sister.
"I had almost forgotten to tell you a piece of news," said he, carelessly; "something which will perhaps interest you, Amelia. Even at this moment a prisoner is being released from his cell and restored to life and liberty. The Empress Maria Theresa, influenced by her fireman, it is said, has appealed to me—"
Princess Amelia uttered a heart-rending shriek, and rushing forward she seized the arm of the king with both her trembling hands.
"Brother! oh, brother, be merciful! do not make cruel sport of me. I acknowledge I appealed to the fireman of the empress. I offered him four thousand louis d'or if he would intercede for Trenck. I see that you know all; I deny nothing. If I have committed a crime worthy of death, condemn me; but do not inflict such fearful tortures before my execution. Do not mock at my great grief, but be pitiful. Look upon me brother; look at my withered limbs, my deformed visage; is not my punishment sufficient? torture me no longer. You return me the sum of money I sent to Vienna; does that mean that you have discovered and destroyed my plot? Is this so, brother? Have you the heart to play this cruel jest with me? Having thus made my last attempt fruitless, do you tell me in mockery that Trenck is free?" She held the arm of the king firmly, and half sinking to her knees, she looked up at him breathlessly.
"No, Amelia," said Frederick, and his voice trembled with emotion. "No, I have not that cruel courage. The hand of your clock points now to twelve; at this moment Trenck leaves Magdeburg in a closed carriage, accompanied by two soldiers. To-morrow he will reach Prague, and then he is free to go where he will, only not in Prussia. Trenck is free."
"Trenck is free!" repeated Amelia, with a shout of joy; she sprang from her knees, clasped the king in a close embrace, and wept upon his bosom such tears as she had not shed for many long years—tears of holy happiness, of rapture inexpressible; then suddenly releasing him, she ran rapidly about the room, in the midst of bitter weeping breaking out into loud ringing laughter, a laugh which rung so fresh, so joyous, it seemed an echo from her far-off happy childhood. "Trenck is free! free!" repeated she again; "and, oh, unspeakable happiness! I obtained him his liberty! ah, no, not I, but a poor Savoyard who wished a dower for his daughter. Oh, ye great ones of the earth, speak no more of your glory and power, a poor Savoyard was mightier than you all! But no, no; what have I said? you, my brother, you have released him. To you Trenck owes his life and liberty. I thank you that these fearful chains, which held my soul in bondage, have fallen apart. Once more I breathe freely, without the appalling consciousness that every breath I draw finds this echo in a cavern of the earth. You have released me from bondage, oh, my brother, and henceforth I will love you with all the strength of my being. Yes, I will love you," cried she, eagerly; "I will cling to you with unchanging constancy; you will ever find in me a faithful ally. I can be useful. I cannot act, but I can listen and watch. I will be your spy. I will tell you all I see. I will read all hearts and make known to you their thoughts. Even now I have something to disclose; do not trust your brothers. Above all others put no faith in Prince Henry; he hates you with a perfect hatred for the sake of Augustus William, who, he says, died of your contempt and cruelty. Trust him in nothing; he is ambitious, he envies you your throne; he hates me also, and calls me always 'La fee malfaisant.' He shall be justified in this! I will be for him La fee malfaisant. I will revenge myself for this hatred. Without my help, however, he will soon be sufficiently punished. His beautiful Wilhelmina will revenge me."
She broke out in wild and convulsive laughter, and repeated again and again in joyous tones, "Yes, yes, his beautiful Wilhelmina will punish him for calling me an old witch."
The king shuddered at her mad laughter, and was oppressed by her presence; her mirth was sadder than her tears. He bade her a silent adieu, and hastened away as if flying from a pestilence. The princess did not detain him; she had fallen upon a chair, and staring immovably before her, she cried out: "Trenck is free! Trenck is free! Life is his once more! I must, I will live till I have seen him once more. Then, when my poor eyes have looked upon him yet once again, then I will die—die!" [Footnote: This wish of the princess was fulfilled after the death of Frederick the Great. Trenck received permission from his successor, Frederick William II., to return to Berlin. He was graciously received at court; his first visit, even before he was announced to the king, was paid to the Princess Amelia. She received him in the same room in which, forty-seven years before, they had passed so many happy hours. Upon the same spot, where, beautiful in youth and grace, they had once sworn eternal love and faith, they now looked upon each other and sought in vain, in these fallen and withered features, for any trace of those charms, which had once enraptured them. Trenck remained many hours with her; they had much to relate. He confessed freely all the events of his fantastic and adventurous life. She listened with a gentle smile, and forgave him for all his wanderings and all his sins. On taking leave he promised the princess to bring his oldest daughter and present her, and Amelia promised to be a mother to her. Death, however, prevented the fulfilment of these promises. It appeared as if this interview had exhausted her remaining strength. In 1786, a few days after the meeting with Trenck, Amelia died. Trenck lived but a few years; he went to France and died under the guillotine in 1793. As he sat with his companions upon the car on their way to execution, he said to the gaping crowd: "Eh bien, eh bien, de quoi vous eurerveillez-vous? C'eci n'est qu'une comedie a la Robespierre." These were Trenck's last words; a few moments afterward his head fell under the guillotine.]
Suddenly she sprang from her seat. "I must know Trenck's future; I must draw his horoscope. I must question the cards as to his destiny, and know whether happiness or misery lies before him. Yes, I will summon my fortune-teller. There is a destiny which shapes our ends."
CHAPTER X. THE STOLEN CHILD.
It was a dark, stormy December night. The long-deserted streets of Berlin were covered with deep snow. By the glare of a small oil-lamp affixed to a post, the tall form of a man, wrapped in a large travelling-cloak, could be seen leaning against a wall; he was gazing fixedly at the houses opposite him. The snow beat upon his face, his limbs were stiff from the cold winter wind, his tooth chattered, but he did not seem to feel it. His whole soul, his whole being was filled with one thought, one desire. What mattered it to him if he suffered, if he died? As a dark shadow appeared; in the opposite door, life and energy once more came back to the stoic. He crossed the street hastily.
"Well, doctor," said he, eagerly, "what have you discovered?"
"It is as your servant informed you, my lord. Your wife, Lady Elliot, is not at home. She is at a ball at Count Verther's, and will not return till after midnight."
"But my child? my daughter?" said Lord Elliot, in a trembling voice.
"She, of course, is at home, my lord. She is in the chamber adjoining your former sleeping apartment. No one but the nurse is with her."
"It is well—I thank you, doctor. All I now require of you is to send my valet, whom I sent to your house after me, with my baggage. Farewell!"
He was rushing away, but the doctor detained him.
"My lord," said he, in a low and imploring voice, "consider the matter once more before you act. Remember that you will thus inform all Berlin of your unfortunate wedded life, and become subject to the jeers and laughter of the so-called nobility; lowering the tragedy of your house to a proverb."
"Be it so," said Lord Elliot, proudly, "I have nothing to fear. The whole world knows that my honor is stained; before the whole world will I cleanse it."
"But in doing so, my lord, you disgrace your wife."
"Do you not think she justly deserves it?" said Lord Elliot, harshly.
"But you should have it on her wish."
"Doctor, when one has suffered as I have, every feeling is extinguished from the heart but hatred. As I have not died of grief, I shall live to revenge my sufferings. My determination is unalterable. I must and will tear my child from the bad influence of her mother, then I will punish the guilty."
"Consider once more, my lord—wait this one night. You have just arrived from a hasty, disagreeable journey; you are excited, your blood is in a fever heat, and now without allowing yourself a moment's rest, you wish to commence your sad work."
"I must have my child. You know that as it is a girl the mother can dispute this right with me, for by the laws of this land in case of divorce, the daughters are left to their mother."
"You should endeavor to obtain her by kindness."
"And suppose that Camilla, not out of love to the child, but to wound and torture me, should refuse me my daughter, what then? Ah! you are silent, doctor; you see I cannot act otherwise."
"I fear, my lord, you will have some trouble in getting the child. Lady Elliot has lately changed all the servants engaged by you, not one of them was allowed to remain. It is most likely that none of the present servants know you, and therefore you will not be obeyed."
"My plans are all arranged, they shall not prevent me from fulfilling them."
"But if they refuse to let you enter?"
"Ah, but I shall not ask them, for I have the keys necessary to enter my own house. When I left home, Camilla threw them laughing and jesting into my trunk—I now have them with me. All your objections are confuted. Again, farewell. If you wish to give me another token of your friendship, meet me at the depot in an hour. I will be there with my child."
He pressed the doctor's hand tightly, and then hurried into the house. Noiselessly he mounted the steps. He now stood in front of the large glass door leading to his dwelling; he leaned for a moment against the door gasping for breath—for a moment a shuddering doubt overcame him; he seemed to see the lovely countenance of Camilla, bedewed with tears, imploring his mercy, his pity. "No, no! no pity, no mercy," he murmured; "onward, onward!"
He drew forth a key, opened the door and closed it noiselessly behind him. A bright lamp burned in the hall; sounds of laughing and merry-making could be heard from the servants' hall; the cries of a child, and the soft lullaby of a nurse from above. No one saw or heard the dark form of their returned master pass slowly through the hall. No one saw him enter his former sleeping apartments. He was so conversant with the room that he found his way in the dark without difficulty to his secretary. Taking from it a candle and some matches, he soon had a bright light. He then glanced sternly around the room. All was as usual, not a chair had been moved since he left. Beneath the secretary were the scraps of letters and papers he had torn up the day of his journey. Even the book he had been reading that morning lay upon the table in front of the sofa; beside it stood the same silver candlesticks, with the same half-burnt candles. It had all been untouched; only he, the master of the apartment, had been touched by the burning hand of misfortune—he alone was changed, transformed. He smiled bitterly as his eye glanced at every object that formerly contributed to his happiness. Then taking up the light, he approached the table upon which stood the two silver candlesticks; lighting one after the other, the large, deserted-looking chamber became illuminated, bringing the pictures on the walls, the heavy satin curtains, the handsome furniture, the tables covered with costly knick-knacks, the large Japan vases, and a huge clock upon the mantel-piece, into view. All bore a gay and festive appearance, much at variance with the unfortunate man's feelings.
His glance had wandered everywhere. Not once, however, had his eye strayed to two large pictures hanging on the left side of the room. The one was of himself—gay, smiling features, a bright glance such as was never now seen upon his countenance. The other was Camilla—Camilla in her bridal robes, as beautiful and lovely as a dream, with her glorious, child-like smile in which he had so long believed—for which, seeing in it the reflection of her pure, innocent soul, she was so unspeakably dear to him. To these two pictures he had completely turned his back, and was walking sadly up and down the room. He now raised his head proudly, and his countenance, which but a moment before had been sad and dejected, was now daring and energetic.
"It is time," murmured he.
With a firm hand he grasped a bell lying upon the table. Its loud, resounding ring disturbed the deep stillness that reigned throughout the apartments, causing Lord Elliot's heart to tremble with woe. But there was no noise—all remained quiet. Lord Elliot waited awhile, then opening the door passed into the hall. Returning, he again rang the bell long and loudly. "They cannot fail to hear me now," said he.
Several doors were now opened by some of the servants, but their terror was such that they retreated in haste, slamming the doors behind them.
Lord Elliot rang again. A servant now hastened forward; another soon followed; a third door was opened from which sprang a lively, trim-looking lady's maid. She was followed by the house girl. Even the cook rushed up the steps. All hurried forward to a room which was generally kept locked, but which now stood wide open. All gazed at the man standing there scanning them with an earnest, commanding glance. They stood thus lost in wonder for a moment, then Lord Elliot approached the door.
"Do you know me—you, there?" said he.
"No, we do not know you," said the waiter, with some hesitation. "We do not know you, and would like to know by what right—"
"There is no question here of your likes or dislikes, but of the orders you will receive from me. Do you know the picture next to the one of your mistress?"
"We have been told that it is our master, Lord Elliot."
Lord Elliot advanced nearer the picture, and stood beneath it. "Do you know me now?" said he.
The servants examined him critically for a time, then whispered and consulted together.
"Now do you know me?" repeated Lord Elliot.
"We think we have the honor of seeing his excellency, Lord Elliot," said the waiter.
"Yes, Lord Elliot," repeated the lady's-maid, the house-girl, and the cook, bowing respectfully.
He ordered them to enter the room. Tremblingly they obeyed him.
"Are these all the servants, or are there any more of you?" said he.
"No one but the nurse, who is with the little lady, and the coach-man who is in the stable."
"That is right. Come nearer, all of you."
As they obeyed, he closed and locked the door, dropping the key in his pocket. The servants looked at him in wonder and terror, hardly daring to breathe. Though they had never seen their master, they knew by his stern, expressive countenance that something remarkable was about to transpire. Like all other servants, they were well acquainted with the secrets, the behavior of their employer. They were, therefore, convinced that their mistress was the cause of their master's strange conduct.
"Do not dare to move from this spot—do not make a sound," said Lord Elliot, taking a light and advancing to a second door. "Remain here. If I need you I will call." Throwing a last look at the servants, Lord Elliot entered the adjoining room, drawing the bolt quickly behind him.
"All is right now." said he, softly. "None of them can fly to warn Camilla to return." Candle in hand, he passed through the chamber, looking neither to right nor left. He wished to ignore that he was now in Camilla's room, which was associated with so many painfully sweet remembrances to him. He entered another room—he hurried through it. As he passed by the large bedstead surrounded by heavy silk curtains, the candle in his hand shook, and a deep groan escaped his breast. He now stood at the door of the next chamber. He stopped for a moment to gain breath and courage. With a hasty movement he threw open the door and entered. His heart failed him when he beheld the peaceful scene before him. A dark shady carpet covered the floor, simple green blinds hung at the windows. There were no handsome paintings on the wall, no glittering chandelier, no bright furniture, and still the apartment contained a wondrous tenement, a great treasure. For in the middle of the room stood a cradle, in the cradle lay his child, his first-born—the child of his love, of his lost happiness. He knew by the great joy that overcame him, by the loud beating of his heart, by the tears that welled to his eyes, that this was his child. He prayed God to bless it—he swore to love it faithfully to all eternity. He at last found the strength to approach the little sleeping being whose presence rilled him with such wild joy.
The nurse sat by the cradle fast asleep. She did not see Lord Elliot kneel beside the cradle and look tenderly at the sleeping face of her nursling—she did not see him kiss the child, then lay its little hands upon his own bowed head as if he needed his little daughter's blessing to strengthen him. But all at once she was shaken by a strong hand, and a loud, commanding voice ordered her to wake up, to open her eyes. She sprang from her chair in terror—she had had a bad dream. But there still stood the strange man, saying in a stern voice, "Get up and prepare to leave here at once with me."
She wished to cry for help, but as she opened her mouth, he threw his strong arm around her. "If you make a sound, I take the child and leave you here alone. I have the right to command here—I am the father of this child."
"Lord Elliot!" cried the nurse, in amazement.
Lord Elliot smiled. This involuntary recognition of his right did him good and softened him.
"Fear nothing," said he, kindly, "no harm shall happen to you. I take you and the child. If you love and are kind to it, you shall receive from me a pension for life; from to-day your wages are doubled. For this I demand nothing, but that you should collect at once the necessary articles of clothing of this child, and put them together. If you are ready in fifteen minutes, I will give you this gold piece."
He looked at his watch, and took from his purse a gold piece, which lent wings to the stout feet of the nurse.
"Is all you need in here?" said he.
Receiving an answer in the affirmative, he took his light and left the chamber. Before leaving, however, he locked another door leading into the hall, so as to prevent the possible escape of the nurse.
As he entered Camilla's boudoir his countenance became dark and stern; every gentle and tender feeling that his child had aroused now fled from his heart. He was now the insulted husband, the man whose honor was wounded in its most sensitive point—who came to punish, to revenge, to seek the proofs of the guilt he suspected. He placed the light upon the table, and opened his wife's portfolio to seek for the key of her drawer, which was generally kept there. It was in its usual place. Lord Elliot shuddered as he touched it; it felt like burning fire in his hand.
"It is the key to my grave," murmured he.
With a firm hand he put the key in the lock, opened the drawer, and drew out the letters and papers it contained. There were his own letters, the letters of love and tenderness he had sent her from Copenhagen; among them he found others full of passionate proofs of the criminal and unholy love he had come to punish. Camilla had not had the delicacy to separate her husband's from her lover's letters; she had carelessly thrown them in the same drawer. As Lord Elliot saw this he laughed aloud, a feeling of inexpressible contempt overpowered his soul and deadened his pain. He could not continue to love one who had not only been faithless to him, but wanting in delicacy to the partner of her sin.
Lord Elliot read but one of the beau cousin's letters, then threw it carelessly aside. He did not care to read more of the silly speeches, the guilty protestations of constancy of her insipid lover. He searched but for one letter; he wished to find the original of the last one Camilla had written to him, for he knew her too well to give her credit for the composition of that cold, sneering, determined letter. He wished, therefore, to find the author, whose every word had pierced his soul like a dagger, driving him at first almost to madness.
A wild, triumphant cry now escaped from him, resounding fearfully in the solitary chambers. He had found it! The letter was clutched tightly in his trembling hands as he read the first lines. It was in the same hand as the others, it was the writing of his rival, Von Kindar, her beau cousin.
Lord Elliot folded the paper carefully and hid it in his bosom; then throwing the others into the drawer, he locked it, placing the key in the portfolio.
"It is well," said he, "I have now all I need. This letter is his death-warrant."
He took the light and left the room. Fifteen minutes had just elapsed when he entered his daughter's chamber. The nurse advanced to meet him, the child and a bundle of clothes in her arms, and received the promised gold piece.
"Now, we must hasten," said he, stepping into the hall.
They passed silently through the house, down the steps, and into the court-yard. Lord Elliot walked hastily on, followed by the wondering nurse. He stopped at the stable door, calling loudly upon the coachman to get up and prepare the horses. At twelve o'clock the coachman was to go for his mistress; he was therefore dressed, and had only laid down for a short nap.
"Put the horses to the carriage," repeated Lord Elliot.
The coachman, raising his lamp, threw a full glare of light upon the stranger.
"I do not know you," said he, roughly; "I receive orders from no one but my mistress."
For answer, Lord Elliot drew from his breast a pocket pistol.
"If you are not ready in five minutes, I will shoot you through the head," said Lord Elliot, quietly, tapping the trigger.
"For God's sake, obey him, John," cried the nurse; "it is his excellency Lord Elliot!"
In five minutes the carriage was ready, owing much more to the loaded pistol still in Lord Elliot's hand than to the conviction that this strange, angry-looking man was his master.
"To the depot!" cried Lord Elliot, placing the child and nurse in the carriage, then jumping in after them—"to the depot in all haste!"
They reached the building in a few minutes. There stood the horses in readiness, and beside them Lord Elliot's servant, with his baggage. He sprang from the carriage, and, giving the coachman a douceur, ordered him to loosen the horses and return home with them.
"But, your honor," stammered the mystified coachman, "how am I to call for my lady if you take the carriage?"
"My lady can wait," said Lord Elliot, jeeringly. "If she reproaches you, tell her that Lord Elliot wishes to be remembered to her; that he will return in eight days with her carriage."
"But she will dismiss me from her service, my lord."
"Wait patiently for eight days, and then you shall enter mine. And now, away with you!"
The coachman dared not answer, and soon disappeared with his horses.
The fresh horses were put to the carriage, the servant swung himself up to his seat; Lord Elliot stood in front of the carriage with his friend Dr. Blitz.
"All has happened as I desired," said he. "I take my child away with me, and, with God's will, she shall never know but that death deprived her of her mother. Poor child! she has no mother, but I will love her with all the strength of a father, all the tenderness of a mother, and I have a noble sister who will guard and watch over her. She awaits me at Kiel. I accompany my child so far, but as soon as she is in the faithful hands of my sister, as soon as I have placed them upon the ship sailing for Copenhagen, I return here."
"Why should you return, my lord?" said the doctor, in terror. "Is it not sufficient that you have deprived the mother of her child? that you have branded the woman with shame before the whole world? What more would you do, my lord?"
With a strange smile, Lord Elliot laid his hand upon the doctor's shoulder.
"Flows there milk instead of blood in your veins, man? or have you forgotten that I have been hit by a poisoned arrow? I must be revenged, if I would not die of this wound."
"Let your wounds bleed, my lord—the longer they bleed, the sooner they will heal. But why destroy the arrow that wounded you? Will you recover the sooner or suffer the less?"
"Again I ask you, is there milk instead of blood in your veins? My honor is stained—I must cleanse it with the blood of my enemy."
"A duel, then, my lord? You will suffer chance to decide your most holy and sacred interests—your honor and life? And if chance is against you? If you fall, instead of your adversary?"
"Then, my friend, God will have decided it, and I shall thank Him for relieving me from a life which will from henceforth be a heavy burden to me. Farewell, doctor. I will be with you in eight days, and will again need your assistance."
"It is then irrevocable, my lord?"
"I shall be ready. God grant that if this sad drama is to end in blood, it may not be yours!"
They pressed each other's hands tenderly. Lord Elliot sprang into the carriage, the coachman whipped his horses, and the carriage in which were the unfortunate man and the stolen child rolled merrily along the deserted streets.
CHAPTER XI. THE DISCOVERY.
Prince Henry stood at the window and looked down into the garden. He saw his wife walking in the park with her ladies, and enjoying the clear, cool winter day; he heard their gay and merry laughter, but he felt no wish to join them and share their mirth.
Since that day in the wood, a change had come upon the prince—a dark, despairing, melancholy had taken possession of him, but he would not let it be seen; he forced himself to a noisy gayety, and in the presence of his wife he was the same tender, devoted, complaisant lover he had been before; but the mask under which he concealed his dislike and scorn was a cruel torture and terrible agony; when he heard her laugh he felt as if a sharp dagger had wounded him; when he touched her hand, he could with difficulty suppress a cry of pain; but he conquered himself, and kept his grief and jealousy down, down in his heart. It was possible he was mistaken. It was possible his wife was innocent; that his friend was true. His own heart wished this so earnestly; his noble and great soul rebelled at the thought of despising those whom he had once loved and trusted so fully. He wished to believe that he had had a hurtful dream; that a momentary madness had darkened his brain; he would rather distrust all his reflections than to believe that this woman, whom he had loved with all the strength of his nature, this man whom he had confided in so entirely, had deceived and betrayed him. It was too horrible to doubt the noblest and most beautiful, the holiest and gentlest—to be so confounded, so uncertain in his best and purest feelings. He could not banish doubt from his heart; like a death-worm, it was gnawing day and night, destroying his vitality—poisoning every hour of the day, and even in his dreams uttering horrible words of mockery. Since the fete in the wood he had been observant, he had watched every glance, listened to every word; but he had discovered nothing. Both appeared unembarrassed and innocent; perhaps they dissembled; perhaps they had seen him as he lay before the hut, and knew that he had been since that day following and observing them, and by their candor and simplicity they would disarm his suspicions and lull his distrust to sleep. This thought kept him ever on his guard; he would, he must know if he had been betrayed; he must have absolute certainty. He stood concealed behind the curtains of his window, and looked down into the garden. His eyes were fixed with a glowing, consuming expression upon the princess, who, with one of her ladies, now passed before his window and looked up, but she could not see him, he was completely hidden behind the heavy silk curtains.
The princess passed on, convinced that if her husband had been in his room, he would have come forward to greet her.
The prince wished her to come to this conclusion. "Now," thought he, "she feels secure; she does not suspect I am observing her, at last I may find an opportunity to become convinced."
Count Kalkreuth was there; he had gone down into the garden. He advanced to meet the princess, they greeted each other, but in their simple, accustomed manner, he, the count, respectfully and ceremoniously—the princess dignified, careless, and condescending. And now they walked near each other, chatting, laughing, charmingly vivacious, and excited by their conversation.
The prince stood behind his curtain with a loudly-beating heart, breathless from anxiety; they came nearer; she led the way to the little lake whose smooth and frozen surface shone like a mirror. The count pointed to the lake, and seemed to ask a question; the princess nodded affirmatively, and turning to her ladies, she spoke a few words; they bowed and withdrew.
"They are going to skate," murmured the prince. "She has sent her ladies to bring her skates; she wishes to be alone with the count."
Breathless, almost in death-agony, he watched them; they stood on the borders of the lake, and talked quietly. The expressions of their countenances were unchanged, calm, and friendly; they were certainly speaking of indifferent things. But what means that? The princess dropped her handkerchief, seemingly by accident. The count raised it and handed it to her; she took it and thanked him smilingly, then in a few moments she put her hand, with a sudden movement, under her velvet mantle. The prince cried out; he had seen something white in her hand which she concealed in her bosom.
"A letter! a letter!" cried he, in a heart-breaking tone, and like a madman pursued by furies, he rushed out.
The Princess Wilhelmina was in the act of having her skates fastened on by her maid, when Prince Henry advanced with hasty steps from the alley which led to the lake.
Count Kalkreuth advanced to meet him, and greeted him with gay, jesting words; but the prince had no word of reply for him; he passed him silently, with a contemptuous glance, and stepped directly in front of the princess, who looked up with a kindly smile. He said:
"Madame, it is too cold and rough to skate to-day; I will have the honor to conduct you to your rooms."
Princess Wilhelmina laughed heartily. "It is a fresh, invigorating winter day, my husband. If you are cold, it is not the fault of the weather, but of your light clothing. I pray you to send for your furs, and then we will run a race over the ice and become warm."
Prince Henry did not answer. He seized the arm of the princess and placed it in his own. "Come, madame, I will conduct you to your apartment."
Wilhelmina gazed at him with astonishment, but she read in his excited and angry countenance that she must not dare oppose him. "Permit me, at least, to have my skates removed," said she, shortly, giving a sign to her maid. The prince stood near, while her maid knelt before her and removed the skates. Count Kalkreuth was at some distance.
Not one word interrupted the portentous silence. Once the prince uttered a hasty and scornful exclamation. He had intercepted a glance which the princess exchanged with Count Kalkreuth, and a glance full of significance and meaning.
"What is the matter with you, prince?" said Wilhelmina.
"I am cold," said he roughly, but the perspiration was standing in large drops on his forehead.
When the skates were taken off, the prince drew his wife on quickly, without a word or greeting to his friend. Kalkreuth stood pale and immovable, and gazed thoughtfully upon the glittering ice. "I fear he knows all," murmured he. "Oh my God, my God! Why will not the earth open and swallow me up? I am a miserable, guilty wretch, and in his presence I must cast my eyes with shame to the ground. I have deceived, betrayed him, and yet I love him. Woe is me!" He clasped his hands wildly over his face, as if he would hide from daylight and the glad sun the blush of shame which burned upon his cheeks; then slowly, with head bowed down, he left the garden.
The prince, during this time, had walked rapidly on with his wife; no word was exchanged between them. Only once, when he felt her arm trembling, he turned and said harshly:
"Why do you tremble?"
"It is cold!" said she, monotonously.
"And yet," said he, laughing derisively, "it is such lovely, invigorating weather."
They went onward silently; they entered the castle and ascended the steps to the apartment of the princess. Now they were in her cabinet—in this quiet, confidential family room, where Prince Henry had passed so many happy hours with his beloved Wilhelmina. Now he stood before her, with a cold, contemptuous glance, panting for breath, too agitated to speak.
The princess was pale as death; unspeakable anguish was written in her face. She dared not interrupt this fearful silence, and appeared to be only occupied in arranging her toilet; she took off her hat and velvet mantle.
"Madame," said the prince at last, gasping at every word, "I am here to make a request of you!"
Wilhelmina bowed coldly and ceremoniously. "You have only to command, my husband!"
"Well, then," said he, no longer able to maintain his artificial composure. "I command you to show me the letter you have hidden in your bosom."
"What letter, prince?" stammered she, stepping back alarmed.
"The letter which Count Kalkreuth gave you in the garden. Do not utter a falsehood; do not dare to deny it. I am not in a mood to be restrained by any earthly consideration."
As he stood thus, opposed to her, with flashing eyes, with trembling lips, and his arm raised threateningly, Wilhelmina felt that it would be dangerous, indeed impossible to make any opposition. She knew that the decisive moment had arrived, the veil must be lifted, and that deception was no longer possible.
"The letter! give me the letter!" cried the prince, with a menacing voice.
Wilhelmina gazed at him steadily, with eyes full of scorn and hatred.
"Here it is," taking the letter calmly from her bosom, and handing it to the prince.
He snatched it like a tiger about to tear his prey to pieces; but when he had opened it and held it before him, the paper trembled so in his hands, he was scarcely able to read it. Once he murmured: "Ah! he dares to say thou to you; he calls you his 'adored Wilhelmina!'" He read on, groaning, sometimes crying out aloud, then muttering wild imprecations.
The princess stood in front of him, pale as death, trembling in every limb; her teeth were chattering, and she was forced to lean against her chair to keep from falling.
When the prince had finished reading the letter, he crushed it and thrust it in his bosom, then fixed his eyes upon his wife with an expression of such intense, unspeakable misery, that the princess felt her heart moved to its profoundest depths.
"Oh, my husband," she said, "curse me!—murder me!—but do not look upon me thus." She then sank as if pressed down by an invisible power, to her knees, and raised her hands to him imploringly.
The prince laughed coarsely, and stepped back. "Rise, madame," said he, "we are not acting a comedy—it is only your husband who is speaking with you. Rise, madame, and give me the key to your secretary. You will understand that after having read this letter I desire to see the others. As your husband, I have at least the right to know how much confidence you have placed in your lover, and how far you return his passion."
"You despise me," cried Wilhelmina, bursting into tears.
"I think I am justified in doing so," said he, coldly. "Stand up, and give me the key."
She rose and staggered to the table. "Here is the key."
The prince opened the secretary. "Where are the letters, madame?"
"In the upper drawer to the left."
"Ah," said lie with a rude laugh, "not even in a secret compartment have you guarded these precious letters. You were so sure of my blind confidence in you that you did not even conceal your jewels."
Princess Wilhelmina did not answer, but as the prince read one after the other of the letters, she sank again upon her knees. "My God, my God!" murmured she, "have pity upon me! Send Thy lightning and crush me. Oh, my God! why will not the earth cover me and hide me from his glance!"
Rivers of tears burst from her eyes, and raising her arms to heaven, she uttered prayers of anguish and repentance.
The prince read on, on, in these unholy letters. Once he exclaimed aloud, and rushed with the letter to the princess.
"Is this true?" said he—"is this which you have written, true?"
"What? Is what true?" said Wilhelmina, rising slowly from her knees.
"He thanks you in this letter for having written to him that you have never loved any man but himself—him—Kalkreuth alone! Did you write the truth?"
"I wrote it, and it is the truth," said the princess, who had now fully recovered her energy and her composure. "Yes, sir, I have loved no one but Kalkreuth alone. I could not force my heart to love you—you who in the beginning disdained me, then one day in an idle mood were pleased to love me, to offer me your favor. I was no slave to be set aside when you were in the humor, and to count myself blessed amongst women when you should find me worthy of your high regard. I was a—free born woman, and as I could not give my hand to him I loved, I gave my heart—that heart which you rejected. You have the right to kill me, but not to despise me—to dishonor me."
"Do I dishonor you when I speak the truth?" cried the prince.
"You do not speak the truth. I have sinned heavily against you. I suffered your love—I could not return it. I had not the courage when I saw you, who had so long disdained me, lying at my feet, declaring your passion and imploring my love in return, to confess to you that I could never love you—that my heart was no longer free. This is my crime—this alone. I could not force my heart to love you, but I could be faithful to my duty, and I have been so. It is not necessary for me to blush and cast my eyes down before my husband. My love is pure—my virtue untarnished. I have broken no faith with you."
"Miserable play on words!" said the prince. "You have been a hypocrite—your crime is twofold: you have sinned against me—you have sinned against your love. You have been a base coward who had not the courage to do justice to the feelings of your own heart. What mean you by saying you have broken no faith with me? You have acted a daily lie. Oh, madame, how have I loved you! Both body and soul were lost in that wild love. When you stood with your lover and listened well pleased to those glowing confessions of his sinful love, you excused yourself and thought, forsooth, you were breaking no faith. You have defrauded me of the woman I loved and the friend whom I trusted. May God curse you, even as I do! May Heaven chastise you, even as I shall!"
He raised both his hands over her as if he would call down Heaven's curse upon her guilty head, then turned and left the room.
CHAPTER XII. THE MORNING AT SANS-SOUCI. It was five o'clock in the morning. Deep silence reigned, the darkness of night still encompassed the world, the weary might still sleep and rest, life had recommenced nowhere, nowhere except at Sans-Souci, nowhere except in the apartment of the king; while his people slept, the king watched, he watched to work and think for his people. Without the wind howled and blew the snow against his window, and made even the fire in his room flicker; but the king heeded it not. He had completed his toilet and drunk his chocolate; now he was working. It did not disturb him that his room was cold, that the candle on his table gave but a poor light, and even seemed to increase the appearance of discomfort in his apartment; it gave sufficient light to enable him to read the letters which lay upon his table, and which had arrived the previous day. His ministers might sleep—the king waked and worked. He read every letter and petition, and wrote a few words of answer on the margin of each. After reading all business communications, the king took his own letters, those that were addressed to him personally, and came from his absent friends. His countenance, which before was grave and determined, assumed a soft and gentle expression, and a smile played upon his lips. The receipts for to-day were small. There were but few letters, and the large proportion of them came from relations of the king, or from distant acquaintances.
"No letter from D'Argens," said the king, smiling. "My ecclesiastic letter has accomplished the desired end, and the good marquis will arrive here to-day to rail at, and then forgive me. Ah, here is a letter from D'Alembert. Well, this is doubtless an agreeable letter, for it will inform me that D'Alembert accepts my proposal, and has decided to become the president of my Academy of Science."
He hastily broke the seal, and while he read a dark cloud overshadowed his brow. "He declines my offer," he said, discontentedly. "His pride consists in a disregard for princes; he wishes posterity to admire him for his unselfishness. Oh, he does not yet know posterity. She will either be utterly silent on this subject or, should it be spoken of, it will be considered an act of folly which D'Alembert committed. He is a proud and haughty man, as they all are." He again took the letter and read it once more, but more slowly and more carefully than before; gradually the clouds disappeared from his brow, and his eyes beamed with pleasure.
"No," he said; "I have misjudged D'Alembert. My displeasure at a disappointed hope blinded me; D'Alembert is not a small, vain man, but a free and great spirit. He now refuses my presidency, with a salary of six thousand thalers, as he last year refused the position of tutor to the heir of the throne of Russia, with a salary of a hundred thousand francs. He prefers to be poor and needy, and to live up five flights of stairs, and be his own master, than to live in a palace as the servant of a prince. I cannot be angry with him, for he has thought and acted as a wise man; and were I not Frederick, I would gladly be D'Alembert. I will not love him less because he has refused my offer. Ah, it is a real pleasure to know that there are still men who are independent enough to exercise their will and judgment in opposition to the king. Princes would be more noble, if those with whom they associated were not so miserable and shallow-hearted. D'Alembert shall be a lesson and a consolation to me; there are still men who are not deceivers and flatterers, fools and betrayers, but really men."
He carefully refolded the letter, and, before placing it in his portfolio, nodded to it as pleasantly as if it had been D'Alembert himself. He then took another letter.
"I do not recognize this writing," he said, as he examined the address. "It is from Switzerland, and is directed to me personally. From whom is it?"
He opened the letter, and glanced first at the signature.
"Ah," he said, "from Jean Jacques Rousseau! I promised him an asylum. The free Switzers persecuted the unhappy philosopher, and my good Lord Marshal prayed my assistance for him. Lord Marshal is now in Scotland, and it will not benefit him to have his friend here. Well, perhaps it may lead to his return, if he hopes to find Rousseau here. I must see what the philosopher says."
The letter contained only a few lines, which the king read with utter astonishment. "Vraiment!" he exclaimed; "philosophers all belong to the devil. This Jean Jacques does not content himself with declining my offer, but he does it in an unheard-of manner. This is a work of art; I must read it again."
The king read aloud in a most pathetic voice: "Votre majeste m'offre un asyle, et m'y prome la liberte; mais vous avez une epee, et vous etes roi. Vous m'offrez une pension, a moi, qui n'a rien fait pour vous. Mais en avez-vous donne a tous les braves gens qui ont perdu bras et jambes en vos services?"
"Well," said the king, laughing, "if being a ruffian makes one a philosopher, Jean Jacques Rousseau deserves to be called the greatest philosopher in the world. Truly, Fortune is playing curious pranks with me to-day, and seems determined to lower my royal pride. Two refusals at one time; two philosophers who decline my invitation. No, not two philosophers—D'Alembert is a philosopher, but Rousseau is in truth a fool."
He tore this letter, and threw the pieces in the fire. He then seized another letter, but laid it down again before opening it. He had heard the great clock in the hall strike eight. That was the sign that the business of the day, which he shared with his attendants, should begin, and that the king had no more time to devote to his private correspondence. The last stroke of the clock had scarcely sounded, as a light knock was heard at the door, which was instantly opened by the command of the king.
Baron von Kircheisen, the prefect of Berlin, entered the room. He came to make his weekly report to the king. His respectful greeting was returned merely by a dark side-glance, and the king listened to his report with evident displeasure.
"And that is your entire report?" asked his majesty, when the prefect had finished. "You are the head of police for the city of Berlin, and you have nothing more to tell me than any policemen might know. You inform me of the number of arrivals and departures, of the births and deaths, and of the thefts which have been committed, and that is the extent of your report."
"But I cannot inform your majesty of things that have not occurred," returned Baron von Kircheisen.
"So nothing else has occurred in Berlin. Berlin is then a most quiet, innocent city, where at the worst a few greatly-to-be-pitied individuals occasionally disturb the repose of the righteous by mistaking the property of others for their own. You know nothing. You do not know that Berlin is the most vicious and immoral of cities. You can tell me nothing of the crimes which are certainly not of a kind to be punished by the law, but which are creeping from house to house, poisoning the happiness of entire families, and spreading shame and misery on every hand. You know nothing of the many broken marriage-vows, of the dissension in families, of the frivolity of the young people who have given themselves up to gambling and dissipation of all kinds. Much misery might be avoided if you knew more of these matters, and were ready with a warning at the right moment."
"Sire, will you permit me to say that is not the task of the ordinary police; for such matters a secret police is required."
"Well, why do you not have a secret police? Why do you not follow the example of the new minister of police at Paris, De Sartines? That man knows every thing that happens in Paris. He knows the history of every house, every family, and every individual. He occasionally warns the men when their wives are on the point of flying from them. He whispers to the wives the names of those who turn their husbands from them. He shows the parents the faro-bank at which their sons are losing their property, and sometimes extends a hand to save them from destruction. That is a good police, and it must be acknowledged that yours does not resemble it."
"If your majesty desires it, I can establish such a police in Berlin as De Sartines has in Paris. But your majesty must do two things: First, you must give me a million of thalers annually."
"Ah! a million! Your secret police is rather expensive. Continue. What do you desire besides the million?"
"Secondly, the permission to destroy the peace of families, the happiness of your subjects—to make the son a spy upon his father—the mother an informer against her daughter—the students and servants the betrayers of their teachers and employers. If your majesty will permit me to undermine the confidence of man to his fellow-man—of the brother to his sister—of the parents to their children—of the husbands to their wives by buying their secrets from them—if I may reward such treachery, then, your majesty, we can have such a police as De Sartines has in Paris. But I do not think that it will promote propriety or prevent crime."
The king had listened to him with increasing interest, his brow growing clearer and clearer as the bold speaker continued. When he finished, the king ceased his walk, and stood motionless before him, looking fully into his excited countenance.
"It is, then, your positive conviction that a secret police brings with it those evils you have depicted?"
"Yes, your majesty, it is my positive conviction."
"He may be right," said the king, thoughtfully. "Nothing demoralizes men so much as spies and denunciations, and a good government should punish and not reward the miserable spies who betray their fellow-creatures for gold with the wicked intention of bringing them into misfortune. A good government should not follow the Jesuits' rule—'That the end consecrates the means.'"
"Will your majesty, then, graciously allow me to dispense with a secret police?"
"Well, yes. We will remain as we are, and De Sartines may keep his secret police. It would not suit us, and Berlin shall not be still further demoralized by spies and betrayers. Therefore, no more of the secret police. When crime shows itself by day we will punish it. We will leave it to Providence to bring it to light. Continue to report to me, therefore, who has died and who has been born; who have arrived and who have departed; who has stolen and who has done a good business. I am well pleased with you—you have spoken freely and bravely, and said openly what you thought. That pleases me; I am pleased when my agents have the courage to speak the truth, and dare occasionally to oppose me. I hope you will retain this virtue."
He bowed pleasantly to the prefect, and offered him his hand. He then dismissed him, and ordered the ministers to enter with their reports and proposals. After these came the council, and only after the king had worked with them uninterruptedly for three hours, did he think of taking some repose from all this work, which had occupied him from six o'clock in the morning until nearly twelve. He was on the point of entering his library as loud voices in the anteroom arrested his attention.
"But I tell you that the king gives no audiences to-day," he heard one of the servants say.
"The king has said that every man who wishes to speak to him shall be admitted!" exclaimed another voice. "I must speak to the king, and he must hear me."
"If you must speak to him, you must arrange it by writing. The king grants an audience to all who demand it, but he fixes the hour himself."
"Misery and despair cannot await a fixed hour!" cried the other. "If the king will not listen to unhappiness when it calls to him for redress, but waits until it pleases him to hear, he is not a good king."
"The man is right," said the king, "I will listen to him immediately."
He hastily advanced to the door and opened it. Without stood an old man, poorly dressed, with a pale, thin face, from whose features despair and sorrow spoke plainly enough to be understood by all. When his great, sunken eyes fell upon the king, he cried, joyfully, "God be thanked, there is the king!" The king motioned to him to approach, and the old man sprang forward with a cry of delight.
"Come into the room," said the king; "and now tell me what you wish from me?"
"Justice, your majesty, nothing but justice. I have been through the war, and I am without bread. I have nothing to live upon, and I have twice petitioned your majesty for a situation which is now vacant."
"And I refused it to you, because I had promised it to another."
"They told me that your majesty would refuse me this situation." cried the man, despairingly. "But I cannot believe it, for your majesty owes it to me, and you are usually a just king. Hasten, your majesty, to perform your duty, and justify yourself from a suspicion which is unworthy of your kingly fame."
The king measured him with a flashing glance, which the pale, despairing suppliant bore with bold composure.
"By what authority," asked the king, in a thundering voice, as he approached the man, with his arm raised threateningly—"by what authority do you dare speak to me in such a tone? and on what do you ground your shameless demands?"
"On this, your majesty, that I must starve if you refuse my request. That is the most sacred of all claims, and to whom on earth dare I turn with it if not to my king?"
There lay in these words a sorrow so heart-breaking, a plaint so despairing in the voice, that the king was involuntarily much moved. He let fall his uplifted arm, and the expression of his countenance became gentle and tender.
"I see that you are very unhappy and despairing," he said, kindly; "you were right to come to me. You shall have the place for which you asked. I will arrange it. Come here to-morrow to the Councillor Muller. I will give you some money, that you may not starve until then."
He silenced the delighted man's expressions of gratitude, and ringing his bell he summoned Deesen, who kept his purse, in order to give the man a gold piece. But Deesen did not appear, and the second chamberlain announced in an embarrassed manner that lie was not in the palace. The king commanded him to give the man the promised gold piece and then to return to him.
"Where is Deesen?" asked the king, as the chamberlain returned.
"Sire, I do not know," he stammered, his eyes sinking beneath the piercing glance of the king.
"You do know!" said the king, gravely. "Deesen has positive orders from me to remain in the anteroom, because I might need him. If he dares to disobey my orders, he must have a powerful reason, and you know it. Out with it! I will know it."
"If your majesty commands, I must speak," said the chamberlain, sighing. "Your majesty will not permit us to be married, but we were made with hearts, and we sometimes fall in love."
"Deesen is in love, then?" said the king.
"Yes, your majesty, he loves a beautiful girl in Potsdam, whose name is Maria Siegert. And although he cannot marry her, she has consented to be his beloved. And as to-day was the great report day, Deesen thought that your majesty would not need him, and that he had time to go to Potsdam to visit his sweetheart. He seems to have been delayed. That is the reason, your majesty, that Deesen is not in the anteroom."
"Very well," said the king; "as soon as Deesen returns he must come to my library. I forbid you, however, to repeat one word of this conversation."
"Ah, your majesty, I am well pleased that I need not do it, for Deesen is very passionate, and if he learns that I have betrayed his secret he is capable of giving me a box on the ear."
"Which would, perhaps, be very wholesome for you," said the king, as he turned toward his library.
A quarter of an hour later, Deesen entered the library with a heated, anxious face.
The king, who was reading his beloved Lucretius while he paced the floor, turned his great, piercing eyes with a questioning expression on the anxious face of his attendant. "I called for you, and you did not come," said the king.
"I beg your majesty to pardon me," stammered Deesen.
"Where were you?"
"I was in my room writing a letter, sire."
"Ah, a letter. You were no doubt writing to that beautiful barmaid at the hotel of the Black Raven at Amsterdam, who declined the attentions of the servant of the brothers Zoller."
This reference to the journey to Amsterdam showed Deesen that the king was not very angry. He dared, therefore, to raise his eyes to those of the king, and to look pleadingly at him.
"Sit down." said the king, pointing to the writing-table. "I called you because I wished to dictate a letter for you to write. Sit down and take a pen."
Deesen seated himself at the table, and the king began walking up and down as before, his hands and book behind him.
"Are you ready?" asked the king.
"I am ready, sire," returned Deesen, dipping his pen into the ink. "Write then," commanded the king, as he placed himself immediately in front of Deesen—"write, then, first the heading: 'My beloved—'"
Deesen started, and glanced inquiringly at the king. Frederick looked earnestly at him, and repeated, "'My beloved—'"
Deesen uttered a sigh, and wrote.
"Have you written that?" asked the king.
"Yes, sire, I have it—'My beloved.'"
"Well, then, proceed. 'My beloved, that old bear, the king—' Write," said the king, interrupting himself as he saw that Deesen grew pale and trembled, and could scarcely hold the pen—"write without hesitation, or expect a severe punishment."
"Will your majesty have the kindness to dictate? I am ready to write every thing," said Deesen, as he wiped his brow.
"Now then, quickly," ordered the king, and he dictated—"'That old bear, the king, counts every hour against me that I spend so charmingly with you. That my absence may be shorter in the future, and less observed by the old scold, I wish you to rent a room near here in the suburbs of Brandenburg, where we can meet more conveniently than in the city. I remain yours until death.'"
"Have you finished?" asked the king.
"Yes, sire, I have finished," groaned Deesen.
"Then fold the letter and seal it, and write the address 'To the unmarried Maria Siegert, Yunker Street, Potsdam.'"
"Mercy, sire, mercy!" cried Deseen, springing up and throwing himself at the feet of the king. "I see that your majesty knows all—that I have been betrayed."
"You have betrayed yourself, for to-day is the tenth time that I have called for you when you were absent. Now send your letter off, and see that your Siegert gets a room here. If, however, you are again absent when I call, I will send your beautiful Maria to Spandau, and dismiss you. Go, now, and dispatch your letter."
Deesen hurried off, and the king looked smilingly after him for a moment, and was on the point of returning to his reading, when his attention was attracted by the approach of a carriage.
"Ah," he murmured anxiously, "I fear that I shall be disturbed again by some cousin, who has come to rob me of my time by hypocritical professions of love."
He looked anxiously toward the door. It was soon opened, and a servant announced Prince Henry.
The king's countenance cleared, and he advanced to meet his brother with a bright smile. But his greeting was not returned, and the prince did not appear to see the extended hand of the king. A heavy cloud lay upon his brow—his cheeks were colorless and his lips compressed, as if he wished to suppress the angry and indignant words which his flashing eyes expressed.
"Ah, my brother," said the king, sadly, "it seems that you have come to announce a misfortune."
"No," said the prince, "I only came, your majesty, to recall a conversation which I held with you ten years ago in this same room, on this very spot."
"Ten years ago?" said the king. "That was at the time of your marriage, Henry."
"Yes, the conversation I refer to concerned my marriage, sire. You had pursued me so long with that subject, that I had at length concluded to submit to the yoke which was to free me from those unworthy and humiliating persecutions."
"I think that you could select more fitting expressions, my brother," said the king, with flashing eyes. "You forget that you are speaking to your king."
"But I remember that I am speaking to my brother, whose duty is to hear the complaints which I have to utter against the king."
"Speak," said the king, after a slight pause. "Your brother will hear you."
"I come to remind you of that hour," said the prince, solemnly, "in which I gave my consent to be married. As I did so, sire, I said to you that I should hold you responsible for this marriage which was made for political purposes and not from love—that I would call you to account before the throne of God, and there ask you by what right you robbed me of my liberty, by what right you laid a chain upon my hand and heart which love could not help me to bear. I said further, sire—if the weight of this chain should become too heavy, and this unnatural connection of a marriage without love should drive me to despair, that upon your head would rest the curse of my misery, and that you would be answerable for my destroyed existence, for my perished hopes."
"And I," said the king, "I took this responsibility upon me. As your king and your elder brother, I reminded you of your duty to give the state a family—sons who would be an example of courage and honor to the men, and daughters who would be a pattern of virtue and propriety to the women. In view of these duties, I demanded of you to be married."
"I come now to call you to account for this marriage," exclaimed the prince, solemnly. "I have come to tell you that my heart is torn with pain and misery; that I am the most wretched of men, and that you have made me so—you, who forced me into this marriage, although you knew the shame and despair of a marriage without love. You had already taken a heavy responsibility upon yourself by your own marriage; and if you were compelled to endure it so long as my father lived, you should have relieved yourself from it so soon as you were free; that is, so soon as you were king. But you preferred to continue in this unnatural connection, or rather you put the chains from your hands, and let them drag at your feet. Not to outrage the world by your divorce, you gave it the bad example of a wretched marriage. You made yourself free, and you made a slave of your poor wife, who has been a martyr to your humors and cruelty. You profaned the institution of marriage. You gave a bad and dangerous example to your subjects, and it has done its work. Look around in your land, sire. Everywhere you will see unhappy women who have been deserted by their husbands, and miserable men who have been dishonored by their faithless wives. Look at your own family. Our sister of Baireuth died of grief, and of the humiliation she endured from the mistress of her husband. Our brother, Augustus William, died solitary and alone. He withdrew in his grief to Oranienburg, and his wife remained in Berlin. She was not with him when he died; strangers received his last breath—strangers closed his eyes. Our sister of Anspach quarrelled with her husband, until finally she submitted, and made a friend of his mistress. And I, sire, I also stand before you with the brand of shame upon my brow. I also have been betrayed and deceived, and all this is your work. If the king mocks at the sacred duties of marriage, how can he expect that his family and subjects should respect them? It is the fashion in your land for husbands and wives to deceive one another, and it is you who have set this fashion."
"I have allowed you to finish, Henry," said the king, when the prince was at length silent. "I have allowed you to finish, but I have not heard your angry and unjust reproaches, I have only heard that my brother is unhappy, and it is, I know, natural for the unhappy to seek the source of their sorrows in others and not in themselves. I forgive all that you have said against me; but if you hold me responsible for the miserable consequences of the war, which kept the men at a distance for years and loosened family ties, that shows plainly that your judgment is unreliable, and that you cannot discriminate with justice. I did not commence this war heedlessly; I undertook it as a heavy burden. It has made an old man of me; it has eaten up my life before my time. I see all the evil results, and I consider it my sacred duty to bind up the wounds which it has inflicted on my country. I work for this object day and night; I give all of my energies to this effort; I have sacrificed to it all my personal inclinations. But I must be contented to bind up the wounds. I cannot make want disappear; I cannot immediately change sorrow into gladness."
"Ah, sire, you seek to avoid the subject, and to speak of the general unhappiness instead of my special grief. I call you to account, because you forced me to take a wife that I did not know—a wife who has made me the most miserable of men—a wife who has outraged my honor, and betrayed my heart. You gave me a wife who has robbed me of all I held dear on earth—of the wife I loved, and of the friend I trusted."
"Poor brother," said the king, gently, "you are enduring the torments from which I also suffered, before my heart became hardened as it now is. Yes, it is a fearful pain to be forced to despise the friend that you trusted—to be betrayed by those we have loved. I have passed through that grief. The man suffered deeply in me before his existence was merged in that of the king."
"Sire," said the prince, suddenly, "I have come to you to demand justice and punishment. You have occasioned the misery of my house, it is therefore your duty to alleviate it, as far as in you lies. I accuse my wife, the Princess Wilhelmina, of infidelity and treachery. I accuse Count Kalkreuth, who dares to love my wife, of being a traitor to your royal family. I demand your consent to my divorce from the princess, and to the punishment of the traitor. That is the satisfaction which I demand of your majesty for the ruin which you have wrought in my life."
"You wish to make me answerable for the capriciousness of woman and the faithlessness of man," asked the king, with a sad smile. "You do that because I, in performing my duty as a king, forced you to marry. It is true you did not love your intended wife, because you did not know her, but you learned to love her. That proves that I did not make a bad choice; your present pain is a justification for me. You are unhappy because you love the wife I gave you with your whole heart. For the capriciousness of women you cannot hold me responsible, and I did not select the friend who has so wickedly betrayed you. You demand of me that I should punish both. Have you considered, my brother, that in punishing them I should make your disgrace and misery public to the world? Do not imagine, Henry, that men pity us for our griefs; when they seem most deeply to sympathize with us they feel an inward pleasure, especially if it is a prince who suffers. It pleases men that fate, which has given us an exceptional position, does not spare us the ordinary sorrows of humanity."
"I understand, then, that you refuse my request," said the prince. "You will not consent to my divorce, you will not punish the traitor?"
"No, I do not refuse your request, but I beg you will take three days to consider what I have said to you. At the end of that time, should you come to me, and make the same demand, I will give my consent; that is, I will have you publicly separated from your wife, I will have Count Kalkreuth punished, and will thus give the world the right to laugh at the hero of Freiburg."
"Very well, sire," said the prince, thoughtfully, "I will remind you of your promise. I beg you will now dismiss me, for you see I am a very man and no philosopher, unworthy to be a guest at Sans-Souci."
He bowed to the king, who tenderly pressed his hand and silently left the room.
Frederick looked after him with an expression of unutterable pity.
"Three days will be long enough to deaden his pain, and then he will be more reasonable and form other resolutions."
CHAPTER XIII. A HUSBAND'S REVENGE.
Camilla lay upon a sofa in her boudoir, and listened with breathless attention to the account her beau cousin gave of the adventures of the last eight days. She listened with sparkling eyes to the witty description he gave of his duel with Lord Elliot, and declared that she found him extraordinarily brilliant. Camilla was indeed proud of her handsome lover. Kindar explained minutely how he had compelled Lord Elliot, who for a long time avoided and fled from him, to fight a duel with him. How he forced him on his knees to acknowledge that he had done his wife injustice, and to apologize for the insult he had offered to Kindar, in charging him with being the lover of his pure and virtuous wile.
"And he did this?" cried Camilla; "he knelt before you and begged your pardon?"
"Yes, he knelt before me, and begged my pardon."
"Then he is even more pitiful than I thought him," said Camilla, "and I am justified before the whole world in despising him. Nothing can be more contemptible than to beg pardon rather than fight a duel, to kneel to a man to save one's miserable life. I am a woman, but I would scorn such cowardice. I would despise the man I loved most fondly if he were guilty of such an act of shame."
Camilla was much excited; she did not notice how Kindar started, turned pale, and fixed his eyes on the floor. She was so charmed with the courage of her beau cousin that she could think of nothing else. Even her frivolous nature had this feminine instinct—she prized personal daring and courage in a man more than all other things; of strength of mind she knew nothing, and therefore she could not appreciate it, but she demanded courage, dignity, and strength of physique. She laid her hands upon her cousin with cordial approbation, and gazed lovingly at him.
"You are as beautiful as a hero and a demigod, and it seems to me I never loved you so fondly as at this moment, when you stand before me as the victor over my cowardly husband. Ah, I wish I could have witnessed that scene; you proud and grand, and he lying trembling like this miserable windspiel at your feet, repeating the words of retraction and repentance which you dictated."
"It was indeed worth seeing," said Kindar; "but let us speak now of something more important, dear Camilla. You must leave Berlin to-day, and for a few weeks at least withdraw to your estate, till the violence of the storm has blown over. It is, of course, most agreeable and flattering to me to have my name coupled with that of so lovely and charming a woman—to be looked upon with jealousy and alarm by the cowardly husbands of Berlin. It will not, however, be agreeable to you to be torn to pieces by slanderous tongues. Every old maid, every prude, and every hypocritical coquette (and of such base elements the feminine world is composed), will find this a happy occasion to exalt her own modesty and virtue, and denounce and condemn you."
"Not so," said Camilla, proudly, "I will remain in Berlin. I have courage to defy the whole world for your sake—I will remain to prove that I am not ashamed of my love. The whole world shall know that the brave and handsome Kindar, the beloved of all women, is my lover. Ah, cousin, you merit this compensation at my hands; you defended my honor against the aspersions of my husband, and compelled him to a shameful retraction."
"Does Baron von Kindar make this boast?" cried a voice behind her.
Camilla turned and saw Lord Elliot standing in the door; he looked at her with a cold, contemptuous glance, which wounded her far more than a spoken insult would have done.
"Why are you here, sir?" she cried. "With what right do you dare force yourself into my presence?"
Lord Elliot made no reply, but smiled coolly, and Camilla's eyes filled with tears of rage.
"Cousin," said she, turning to Kindar, "will you not free me from the presence of this contemptible creature, who dares to affront and—"
Suddenly she stopped speaking and gazed in amazement at her handsome cousin; his countenance was not serene; he was indeed livid, and stood trembling and with downcast eyes before her husband.
"Well," said Lord Elliot, raising himself proudly, "do you not hear your cousin's command? Will you not dismiss this poor creature who dares disturb this tender interview?"
"I will withdraw." stammered Kindar, "I am de trop. I have no right to interfere between Lord Elliot and his wife. I take my leave."
He tried to step through the door, but the powerful hand of Lord Elliot held him back.
"Not so, my handsome gentleman," said Lord Elliot, with a hoarse laugh, "you are by no means de trop; on the contrary, I desire your presence; you will remain here and listen to the charming and merry narrative I am about to relate to Lady Elliot. I have come, madame, to give your ladyship the history of a hunt; not, however, of a chase after wild beasts, of the hart and the hare, but of an all-conquering cavalier, who, however, judging from the manner in which he fled and sought to save himself, must possess the cowardice of the hare, and the fleet foot of the hart. You know, I presume, that I speak of your beau cousin, and myself."
While Lord Elliot spoke, Camilla stared in breathless agony at her cousin. She seemed to hope to read in his pale face the explanation of this incomprehensible riddle; she expected him to command her husband to be silent, and to offer him some new insult. But Kindar did not speak, and Camilla came to a desperate resolution. She was determined to know why he stood so pale and trembling before her husband. She would force him to an explanation.
"It is wholly unnecessary, my lord," she said, in a haughty tone, "to relate your history to me; I am acquainted with all the particulars of the chase of which you speak. I know your degradation and humiliation—I know that you fell upon your knees and pleaded for pardon when satisfaction was demanded of you."
"Ah! I see, le beau cousin has changed roles with me," said Lord Elliot. "That was indeed most amiable. Your lover must, of course, always play the most important part, and no doubt, he thought to do me honor by this change. I cannot take advantage of this generous intention, and must correct a few errors in his narrative."
"Speak! then; speak! my lord," said Camilla, whose eyes were still fixed sternly upon her lover.
"As you graciously permit it, madame, I will give you an account of the chase. But first, madame, I must clear myself from an accusation. I am suspected of having challenged Von Kindar, because he was the lover of my wife. I look upon that, however, as an accident, and nothing more. Le beau cousin happened to be at hand when my susceptible, ardent wife looked around for a lover, and she accepted him; he was the first, but he will not be the last. I was not driven to pursue him by jealousy. I am a true son of this enlightened age, and shall not, like the knights of the olden time, storm heaven and earth because my wife has a lover. I am a philosopher. For a noble wife, who had made me happy in her love, I might perhaps feel and act differently. I, however, married a heartless fool, and it would have been mad folly to risk my life with a brainless fop for her sake."
"Speak, cousin!" cried Camilla, springing forward, white with passion. "Speak! Do you not hear these insults?" She laid her hands upon his arm; he muttered a few incomprehensible words and tried to shake them off.
"He has heard every word," said Lord Elliot, scornfully; "but he is without doubt too polite to interrupt me. He will have the goodness still to listen silently."
Camilla let her hands fall; gnashing her teeth she turned away and seated herself upon the divan. Her lover and her husband stood before her; the one, trembling like a broken reed, leaned against the wall, the other erect and proudly conscious of his own worth and dignity.
"I said that I would not have dreamed of risking my life with a brainless fop, for the sake of a heartless fool; but this fop was guilty of another crime: he was not only the betrayer of my wife, but he was the author of a shameful and most insulting letter, which you, madame, had the effrontery to copy and send me."
"How do you know that he wrote this letter?" cried Camilla.
"In the first place, madame, you are not even capable of composing such a letter. I took the liberty of removing the original of this letter from your writing-desk. Armed with this proof, I sought le beau cousin, and demanded satisfaction. Lieutenant Kaphengst, a former friend of this handsome cavalier, accompanied me. When you deal with such a man as the one who stands cowering before me, witnesses are necessary. He is quite capable of denying every thing, and changing the roles. The baron had left home, he had gone to Mecklenberg. Certainly he did not know that I had come to Berlin to seek him, or he would have had the courtesy to remain and receive my visit. I was too impatient to await his return, and followed his traces, even as ardently as he has followed you, madame. I found him at last, in the hotel of a little village. Like all other sentimental lovers, he longed for solitude; and, not wishing to be disturbed in his sweet dreams, he rented the entire hotel. I was, however, bold enough to seek him—with swords and pistols—and gave him choice of weapons; he was peaceable, and refused both sword and pistol. I therefore took my third weapon, my trusty walking-stick. It was a beautiful bamboo-rod, and neither broke nor split, though I beat away valiantly on the back of the knightly cavalier."
"This cannot be true. This is a lie!" cried Camilla.
Lord Elliot raised his arm and pointed slowly to Kindar. "Ask him, madame, if this is a lie."
Camilla turned, and as her eye rested upon him, she felt that she had no need to ask the question.
Kindar leaned with pale cheek and tottering knees against the wall. He was a living picture of cowardly despair and trembling terror.
Camilla groaned aloud, and with a look of unspeakable aversion she turned from him to her husband. For the first time, she did not find him ugly. He was indeed imposing. His proud bearing, his noble intellect, and manly worth impressed her. To her he had never been but the fond, tender, yielding lover—now she saw before her the firm and angry man, and he pleased her. Kindar, who had been so handsome and so irresistible, was now hateful in her eyes.
"Go on," murmured Camilla.
"Well, I beat this man with my cane till he consented to fight with me. We had, however, played this little comedy too energetically. The people of the hotel heard the noise, and fearing some fatal result, rushed to the rescue of this handsome cavalier. We deferred the duel, therefore, till the next day, but lo! the next morning le beau cousin had fled. Without doubt he had forgotten our little arrangement, and his thirst to see you lured him back to Berlin. I was barbarian enough to follow him, and I swore to shoot him down like a mad dog if he did not consent to fight. This comparison was doubtless somewhat insulting, and he resolved at last to fight."
"Ah, he accepted the challenge!" cried Camilla, casting a sudden glance upon Kindar; but oh, how ugly, how pitiful, how repulsive did he now appear to her! She closed her eyes, in order not to see him.
"We rode on with our seconds and our weapons to the little village of Bernan, on the border of Saxony; but I saw, madame, that your cavalier had no inclination to fight this duel. Besides, I thought of you—of your great grief if he should fall, and thus deprive you of your pretty plaything before you had time to replace it. You know that my heart was ever soft and compassionate. I resolved, therefore, to be merciful to le beau cousin. Arrived on the ground, I proposed to Kindar, instead of fighting with me, to sign a paper which I had prepared, in which he implores my pardon and my mercy, acknowledges himself to be an unworthy scoundrel and liar, and solemnly swears that every accusation he brought against me in the letter you copied was a lie—declares me to be an irreproachable cavalier, who has been deceived and betrayed by himself and Lady Elliot. Baron Kindar found this somewhat strongly expressed, and preferred to fight rather than sign it."
"God be thanked!" murmured Camilla.
"Well, we were resolved to fight, and I was obliging enough to give Kindar the first shot. He accepted this advantage readily, and I confess he aimed well. His hand trembled, and he shot too high, just over my head. Now it was my turn. I raised the pistol, and I swear to you, madame, my hand did not tremble. Perhaps Kindar noticed this—perhaps he wished to live and find a compensation in your love for the terrible torments of the last few days. It suffices to say, he called out to me not to shoot, as he was ready to sign the paper confessing he was a scoundrel and a liar. He signed it kneeling at my feet, and begging pardon. I then gave him permission to return to Berlin. For myself, I drove to Sans-Souci, asked an audience of the king, and obtained his consent to a divorce. You know, madame, that I have a soft and yielding nature. I never could refuse a wish of your heart. I therefore implored his majesty to allow of your immediate marriage with Baron Kindar."