"Never, never, will that marriage take place!" cried Camilla, springing from the divan and gazing with abhorrence upon Kindar.
"It will take place!" said Lord Elliot, firmly and imperiously; "you love him, you betrayed me for his sake—he is a base coward, despised by every man, but still you will marry him. We are divorced, and the king commands this marriage. From this hour we are nothing to each other—you are the betrothed of Baron von Kindar. Allow me to give you this paper, which he signed to save his pitiful life, as a bridal present."
He laid the paper upon the table, and bowed to Camilla, who was pale and terrified, and whose teeth chattered as if in an ague-fit.
"Madame," said Lord Elliot, "I have the honor to bid you adieu. I wish you a long and happy wedded life!"
Lord Elliot left the room and passed on to the apartment which had been his own. Every thing had been removed, all the pictures taken from the wall but one; only Camilla's portrait, taken in her bridal dress, remained. He stood long before this lovely picture, and gazed steadily, as if to impress every lineament upon his soul. He felt that in taking leave of this painting he was bidding adieu to youth, to happiness, to all the sweet illusions of life.
"Farewell!" said he, aloud—"farewell, Camilla! my bride! the dream is over!"
He took a little knife from his pocket and cut the picture in two pieces, from the top to the bottom, then slowly descended the steps to his carriage, in which his friend, Doctor Blitz awaited him.
"I am ready, doctor, and I beg you to give me a bed in your house for the present. During the last ten days I have had a burning fever."
While Lord Elliot was driving off, Camilla and le beau cousin stood confronting each other; neither dared to break the fearful silence, or even to look at each other.
Suddenly the door opened, and General von Saldern, the adjutant of the king, entered the room. Camilla had not the strength to advance to meet him; she returned his salutation by a faint inclination of the head. The general did not appear to see Kindar, and made no response to his profound bow.
"Madame," said the general, solemnly, "I come at the command of the king; by his authority as king and judge, and as head of the church, he has annulled your marriage with Lord Elliot. This was done as a proof of his regard to Lord Elliot. Out of regard to your own family, he insists upon your immediate marriage with Baron Kindar, who has been dismissed from the king's service."
"No, no," cried Camilla, "I will never marry him! Leave me, sir—I will never become the wife of this man!"
"It is his majesty's express command that you should be married without delay," said General Saldern; "he has also commanded me to say to you that this scandalous intrigue, insulting to morals and good manners, should no longer be brought before the public. You are both, therefore, banished from his court, from Potsdam and Berlin, and commanded to take refuge at your country seat, and lead there a solitary and quiet life. This is the only punishment he inflicts upon you, and I have nothing more to announce. If agreeable to you, madame, we will go at once!"
"Where?" cried Camilla, drawing back in terror from the general, who approached her.
"In the next room, madame, a priest is waiting, who, at the express command of his majesty, will now perform the marriage ceremony."
Camilla uttered a loud shriek and fell senseless into the arms of le beau cousin, who advanced toward her at a nod from the general. When consciousness returned, the priest was before her and Kindar at her side. The ceremony was performed, and the unhappy couple left Berlin at once, never to return. The remainder of their lives was passed in sorrow, solitude, and self-contempt.
CHAPTER XIV. THE SEPARATION.
The three days the king had allowed his brother to make up his mind in, were past. Prince Henry had made up his mind. On the morning of the second day, he had sent off two couriers—one to the king at Sans-Souci, the other to his wife at Rheinsberg. He had remained in Berlin, and had taken possession of the splendid palace opposite the opera-house, that the king had lately built and furnished for him. He had ordered his major-domo to prepare a handsome dinner, as he wished to open his house by entertaining all the nobility of Berlin.
The feast was to take place the third day after the king's interview with the prince.
The courier who left the morning before, carried a letter to Princess Wilhelmina, requesting her in a few cold, ceremonious words, to come to Berlin and preside at the proposed dinner and concert.
This invitation was to the princess a command she dared not resist. She left Rheinsberg early in the morning and arrived at the palace an hour before dinner.
Prince Henry met his wife in the large vestibule leading to the front building. He advanced toward her with a bright smile, passed her arm through his, and led her, pale and trembling, up the steps, making her observe the style of the building and the many conveniences of their new dwelling. He spoke cheerfully, walking slowly so as to give the followers of the princess, who were occupied with her baggage, time to collect around her and witness the perfect understanding between her and her husband. When they had mounted the last step, the prince laughingly pointed to the two halls leading from the stairway.
"Here, madame, commence our separate apartments. To you belong the right, to me the left wing of the castle. I will pass through the hall to the right and lead you to the apartments whose mistress you will now become."
The princess threw a timid, inquiring glance at him. She had been so convinced that her husband would demand a divorce, that she had allowed her thoughts to linger upon this possible mode of escape. Now her heart trembled within her. "Perhaps," murmured she as they passed through the long hall—"perhaps he will murder me as the Duke of Orleans did his wife because she loved the Count de Guiche." She hesitated, therefore, as the prince opened a door and bade her enter. She looked anxiously around for her followers.
"Cannot my maids accompany us?" said she, softly.
"No, madame," said the prince, roughly. "We go alone."
He drew her into the room, entered after her, then closed and locked the door.
Princess Wilhelmina shrieked in terror, and drew away from him. "Why do you lock the door?" said she, trembling. "Do you wish to murder me?"
The prince laughed aloud. "Ah, you wish a tragic end to your romance, madame," said he. "Not so, however. It will be quiet and prosaic. You will act neither the part of a martyr nor a heroine. I wish neither to reproach nor punish you. I leave that to God and your conscience. I wish only to arrange with you the details of our future life. I locked the door, as I do not wish to be disturbed."
"What are these details?" said the princess.
"We will speak of them hereafter, madame. Will you first do me the honor to read this letter I have just received from the king in answer to mine? Have the kindness to read it aloud."
The princess received the letter and read:
"MY DEAR BROTHER—Your letter has been a great source of consolation to me, for it assures me that you are again a man, and have overcome your grief. It is not your lot to be only a tender or an avenging husband. You are, before all else, a prince and a man. Both qualifications have duties forcing you to submit to life and to become worthy of it. There is still much to be done in this world by both of us, and a true man should not be turned from his path because a foolish woman places a few thorns beneath his pillow. Stifling his pain, he continues his road quietly. I am glad this is also your opinion—that you have given up all thought of a public scandal and denunciation. In relation to the princess. I give you full power to make any and every arrangement you see fit. As to Kalkreuth, he shall receive the place you mentioned. I have appointed him lieutenant-general of the third army corps in Prussia. He will leave here at once. I desire you to inform him of his promotion. As soon as you dismiss him, send him to me at Sans-Souci. You tell me you are about to give a feast. That pleases me right well. It is better to stifle your pain with bright flowers and gay music, than to tear out your hair and retire to a convent. May your feast be a bright one, and may it last forever! FREDERICK." Princess Wilhelmina, having finished the letter, handed it to her husband. "I see," whispered she, softly, "that you have been noble and generous, my husband. You shower benefits upon us instead of just anger."
"I do neither the one nor the other," said the prince, coldly; "I simply wish to pass a peaceful life, and above all things I would not have the world think me unhappy, for unhappy I am not nor ever mean to be."
The princess gave a timid glance at his countenance, so at variance with his words. The last three days had worked such a fearful change. His cheeks were thin and pale, his brow dark and clouded—about his mouth were deep lines of care never more to be effaced. Princess Wilhelmina was deeply touched when she saw this change.
"My husband," said she softly, raising her hands imploringly to him, "have pity on yourself—on me. Hear me before you decide. I feel that I have sinned heavily against you, but I will endeavor to expiate my sin. In looking at you and seeing how much you have suffered, the pain that almost bursts my heart tells me how dear you are to me. I repent—I repent, my husband. I will force my heart to love you, and you alone. From now on, I will be a faithful wife; the one aim of my life shall be to make you happy. Here I swear, as before God's altar, that I will love and obey you as my husband and master. Will you accept this heart, that comes to you full of repentance? Henry, will you?"
She held out her hand, with a bright, beaming glance, but he did not take it.
"No; it is too late," said he. "I raised you a temple in my heart. You have destroyed it, and wish now to build another with the shattered ruins. No, princess; that which the lightning has struck must remain in ashes. I could never believe in the stability of your building, but would be expecting it to fall daily. This temple can never be rebuilt. I forgive, but can never more love you. We are separated before God and our own hearts. But to the world we are still wedded. We shall both inhabit this palace, but we shall seek never to meet one another. On grand fete days, when etiquette demands it, we shall dine together, but preside at separate tables. And you must forgive me if I never address you. We are dead to one another; and the dead do not speak. In the summer I shall live at Rheinsberg; the king presented it to me on my marriage with you, and I think I have paid dearly enough for it to be allowed to spend my time there alone. You will not follow me there, but will remain in Berlin, or travel, as it suits you. Do you accept my conditions, madame?"
"Yes, sir," said the princess, proudly. "I accept them. We will live like two galley-slaves, bound together in chains, without one thought or feeling in unison. You have devised a severe punishment for me, my prince. My only fear is that I am not the only victim—that you also suffer?"
"I told you before, that I wished to punish no one. All I seek is a little rest—a little peace, and your presence in this palace cannot endanger that, for you, madame, have not only annihilated my love for you, but also the remembrance of it. And now, as you have accepted my conditions for our future life, I have nothing more to say than farewell, until death! Farewell, madame; may your life be a happy one!"
"Farewell, prince!" murmured Wilhelmina, in a voice choked with tears. "Farewell! and may God teach your heart to pity and forgive!"
"You will now have the kindness, madame, to arrange your toilet, then to follow me with your court to the great reception-room. We give to-day a splendid dinner. At this fete we will take an eternal adieu of the past. It will be the last time we dine together. Farewell, madame; I await you."
He bowed profoundly, then moved to the door. The princess gazed after him breathlessly, and the tears that had long stood in her eyes now rolled slowly down her cheeks.
When the prince had reached the threshold, she started forward, crying in a piteous voice:
"Henry! oh, Henry!"
The prince did not turn, but opened the door and passed out of the room.
Fifteen minutes later, a gay crowd was assembled in the reception-room. The prince received his guests in his usual gay, cordial manner. But the princess was different. She was more quiet and formal than usual. Her eyes did not sparkle; her cheeks were pale in spite of her rouge: her voice was low and tremulous, and the smile she called to her lip was hard and forced. A still more remarkable change had taken place in Count Kalkreuth's appearance. He who generally sparkled with gayety and wit, whose merry jests had been the delight of the court—he who had been the very shadow of the princess, her most devoted cavalier—stood now pale and speechless at a window, gazing sadly at the prince, who was laughing and talking with his guests, and who had passed him repeatedly without turning his head. The courtiers, however, saw only the outward signs of that agony that had almost distracted the count in the last four days.
For four days, since their last meeting in the garden of Rheinsberg, the prince had not spoken to him. It was in vain he had written and implored an audience. The prince returned his letters unopened. In vain that at almost every hour during these four wretched days he had had himself announced to the prince. Prince Henry would not receive him. And still he felt the inevitable necessity of having an explanation with the prince. His heart craved it as the dying man craves the last consolations of religion. This friendship for the prince, notwithstanding he had betrayed and wounded it, was, and had always been to him a sort of religion; he had sinned against it in the folly of his passion, but he had now come to his senses, and he repented his guilt bitterly. Not a thought of the princess lingered in his heart; it was the prince he yearned after; he must speak to him; he must be forgiven by him. His love for him was greater than ever. Now that he had turned from him, he knew how much he had lost. He had not yet given up the hope of an interview; for this, alone had he come to the dinner. But whenever he endeavored to approach the prince, he had turned from him and entered into earnest conversation with some bystanders.
Now the prince stood alone at a window; now or never must the count succeed in speaking to him. Passing through the room hastily, he stood before Prince Henry.
"My prince," murmured the count, softly, "have pity on me. I entreat you to listen to me for fifteen minutes!"
The prince fixed his piercing eyes upon the count's pale, agitated countenance, but did not speak. Then passing proudly before him, he advanced to meet Prince Frederick William, who had just arrived.
The doors of the dining-saloon were now thrown open, and the guests approached the richly-covered table, at one end of which sat the prince and his wife. Not far from them was Count Kalkreuth. For more than two hours he had borne the agony of being near the prince without being addressed by him. For two hours he had stood the inquiring, malicious smiles and glances of the courtiers, who were looking on with delight at his humiliation.
His martyrdom was almost over. Dinner was finished, and all awaited a sign from the princely couple to rise from the table. Prince Henry arose, glass in hand, and said, in a loud voice:
"And now, my guests, I have pleasant news for you; as you are all friends of Count Kalkreuth, what is good news to him will be to you also. His majesty has appointed him lieutenant-general of Prince Frederick William's army corps in Prussia. The king, knowing my true friendship for him, granted me the privilege of announcing his promotion. I am sorry to say that through it we lose him, for his majesty desires him, as soon as we leave the table, to hasten to Sans-Souci to receive his commission. And now, gentlemen, fill your glasses, we will drink to the lieutenant-general's welfare."
All arose to drink the toast except Count Kalkreuth. His head was bent almost upon his breast, as if he were ashamed to show his pale, agitated countenance. He would have given all he possessed to have flown from the hall. Princess Wilhelmina sat opposite, she had not yet looked at him, but she now threw him a glance full of inexpressible pity, and raised her glass hastily to her lips. It was not wine, but her own tears that she drank.
The prince now led the princess to the reception-room. He stood beside her when Kalkreuth approached. The guests were grouped about the room, every eye was fixed eagerly upon this trio.
Count Kalkreuth was still pale and unmanned; with tottering, trembling steps he advanced toward the princely couple.
The prince turned laughingly to his guests, saying: "See the strange effect of joy. It has transformed our gay and witty count. He is stern and solemn as if, instead of an honor, he had received a degradation."
No voice answered the prince. Finally, in midst of deep silence, the count said:
"I come to take leave of your royal highness before going to that exile which his majesty has kindly chosen for me. For, although it is promotion, you must permit me to reiterate that it is also banishment, for at Konigsberg I shall not see my prince. But I shall carry your picture in my heart—there it shall forever dwell."
"We will not make our parting more hard by sweet words," said Prince Henry, emphasizing the last words. "Bid adieu to my wife, kiss her hand, and then God be with you!"
The princess, muttering a few incomprehensible words, gave him her hand, white and colorless as that of a corpse. Count Kalkreuth touched his lips to it, and they were so cold that the princess shuddered as if she had been embraced by death itself.
It was their last meeting!—a cold, formal farewell for life. The count now turned to the prince, who gave him his hand smilingly.
"Farewell, count," said he. Stooping to embrace him, he whispered in his ear: "You once saved my life, we are now quits, for you have murdered my heart. Farewell!"
He turned from him. The count, no longer able to suppress his tears, covered his face with his hands and tottered from the room.
A few hours later he stood in the king's ante-chamber at Sans-Souci. He had just been announced. He waited long—no one came to conduct him to the king; every door remained closed, every thing around him was dull and deserted. It was dark; the sharp April wind was beating against the window and howling through the chimney. The count's conscience was busy at work in this gloomy chamber. He could endure it no longer, and was preparing to leave, when the door was opened, and an adjutant entered to conduct him to the king's apartments.
The king was in his sitting-room. As Count Kalkreuth entered, he laid aside the book he had been reading, and rose. In a stern, imperious manner he advanced to meet him.
"As my brother desired it, I have appointed you lieutenant-general of the third army corps," said he, harshly. "You leave at once for Konigsberg—you know your duties. Go, and endeavor to fulfil them."
"Sire!" said the count, softly.
"Go! not another word!"
Count Kalkreuth, almost unable to make the military salute, left the room, stifling his anger.
The king looked after him thoughtfully. "Poor Henry!" murmured he, softly, "had you also to receive the Judas-kiss from a friend? Poor brother! you were so happy—why did cruel fate disenchant you? There is much in being happy in your own estimation—there is upon the earth no other sort of happiness; and whether true or false, the peace it brings is alike. I, I am so poor that I no longer believe in the one or the other. And still men envy me! Envy a poor, disenchanted, solitary man—envy him because he wears a crown! What sort of an existence have I? My life is full of work, full of sorrow, nothing else! I work for my subjects; they do not thank me, and will greet and welcome my successor some day, be he ever so mean and contemptible, as they once greeted and welcomed me. The love of a people for their king is a love full of egotism and self-interest. Who has ever loved me otherwise than selfishly? I met my friends with an open heart—when with them I forgot that I was a king, but they never forgot it; not one, not a single one loved in me the man. The foolish populace call me a hero, and speak of the laurels that crown my brow, but of the thorns they have woven in it they know nothing. Would I need have no more to do with men, for they have poor, slavish souls! They deceive themselves—they all deceive me."
As the king ceased speaking, he felt his foot touched. Somewhat startled, he looked down. His greyhound Diana was lying at his feet, gazing at him with her large, intelligent eyes. A soft smile crossed Frederick's countenance. Stooping to caress her, he said:
"You come to remind me that there is still love and truth upon the earth, but one must not be silly enough to look for it among men. Come here, Diana, my little companion; I was wrong to call myself solitary, for are you not here? and then have I not my flute? Is she not a loving, trustworthy friend, to whom every thing can be confided? You two shall be my sole companions this evening."
Raising his flute, he commenced to play softly, walking up and down his room. Diana followed him slowly, listening in seeming devotion to the long, wailing tones of her rival.
Sad and wonderful to hear was the music of this solitary king; like broken, dying sighs and sobs were its tones; and the howling wind, rushing in through the window, added its mournful wail to Federich the Great's song of woe.