"How solitary, how joyless life is! how rich I was once in friends, how poor I am now! and who knows how much poorer I may be to-morrow at this hour—who knows if I shall have a place to lay my head?—I may be a fugitive, without home or country. Verily, I have the destiny of Mithridates—I want only two sons and a Monima. Well," continued he, with a soft smile, "it is still something to stand alone—misfortunes only strike home. But do I stand alone? have I not an entire people looking to me and expecting me to do my duty? Have I not brave soldiers, who call me father, looking death courageously in the face and hazarding their lives for me? No, I am not alone—and if Mithridates had two sons, I have thirty-three thousand. I will go and bid them good-evening. I think it will refresh my sad heart to hear their cheerful greetings."
The king threw on his mantle and left his quarters, to make, as he was often accustomed to do, a tour through the camp. Only the officer on guard followed him, at a short distance.
It was now dark, and fires, which were lighted everywhere, gave a little protection against the biting cold. It was a beautiful sight—the wide plain, with its numberless, blazing, flickering fires, surrounded by groups of cheerful soldiers, their fresh faces glowing with the light of the flames. In the distance the moon rose grand and full, illuminating the scene with its silver rays, and blending its pale shimmer with the ruddy flames.
The king walked briskly through the camp, and, when recognized, the soldiers greeted him with shouts and loving words. As he approached a large fire, over which hung a big kettle, the contents of which filled the air with savory odors, he heard a brisk voice say:
"Now, comrades, come and eat, the noodles are done!"
"Hurrah! here we are," cried the boys, who were standing not far off, chatting merrily. They sprang forward joyfully, to eat the longed—for noodles.
The king, recognizing the soldiers who had uncovered his roof, drew near to the fire.
"Shall I also come and eat with you?" he said, good-humoredly.
The soldiers looked up from the tin plates, in which the noodles were swimming.
"Yes, sire," said Fritz Kober, jumping up and approaching the king; "yes, you shall eat with us; here is my spoon and knife, and if you reject it, and are only mocking us, I shall be very angry indeed."
The king laughed, and turning to the officer who had followed him, said as if to excuse himself:
"I must really eat, or I shall make the man furious.—Give me your spoon; but listen, I can tell you, if the noodles are not good, I shall be angry." He took the plate and began to eat.
The soldiers all stopped, and looked eagerly at the king. When he had swallowed the first bite, Fritz Kober could no longer restrain his curiosity.
"Well, sire," he said, triumphantly, "what do you say to it! Can't Buschman prepare better noodles than your cleverest cook?"
"Verily," said the king, smiling, "he never cooked such noodles for me, and I must say they are good, but, now I have had enough, and I am much obliged to you."
He wished to return his plate to Fritz Kober, but Fritz shook his head violently.
"See here, your majesty, no one gets off from us with just a 'thank you,' and you, least of all, sire; every one must pay his part."
"Well," said the king, "how much is my share?"
"It cost each of us three groschen; the king may pay what he pleases."
"Will you credit me, dragoon?" said the king, who searched his pockets in vain for money.
"Oh! yes, your majesty, I will credit you, but only until tomorrow morning, early; for, if a cannon-ball took my head off, I could not dun your majesty, and you would be my debtor to all eternity."
"It would then be better to settle our accounts to-day," said the king, and nodding to the soldiers, he left them.
CHAPTER XIII. THE WATCH-FIRE.
The officer who had accompanied the king, returned in an hour to the watch-fire of the dragoons, and handed five gold pieces to Fritz Kober, which had been sent by the king to pay for his portion of the noodles; then, without giving the surprised soldier time to thank him, he withdrew.
Fritz looked long and thoughtfully at the gold pieces, which, in the light of the flickering fire, shone beautifully in his hand.
"It is very well—very well that the king kept his word, and paid me punctually to-night," said he to Charles Henry Buschman, who sat near, and with his elbow resting on his knee, watched his friend closely.
"And why so, Fritz?" said Charles.
"I will tell you, Charles Henry. If I fall to-morrow, I will have something in my pocket that you will inherit from me. I declare to you, no one but you alone shall be my heir; all that I have belongs to you. Thunder and lightning! I am rich! it is better I should make my testament; I don't know what may happen to me to-morrow. I have neither pen nor paper; well, I will make it verbally! I will wake some of my comrades, and they shall witness my last will and testament." He reached over to the sleeping soldiers, who lay near him on the ground, but Charles held him back.
"Let them sleep, friend," said he, pleadingly; "it is not necessary you should have witnesses. God, and the moon, and a thousand stars hear what we say to each other; and why speak of your will and your fortune, friend? Do you think I would care for that miserable gold, if you were no longer by my side? Do you think I would use it for any other purpose than to buy your tombstone, and write on it in golden letters?"
"What? a tombstone!" said Fritz Kober, with an astonished look; "and why would you place a tombstone over a poor, simple, unknown fellow like myself, Charles Henry? Many gallant generals and officers fall in battle; the earth drinks their blood, and no one knows where they lie. And with golden letters, did you say, Charles? Well, I am curious to know what you would place upon my tombstone."
"I will tell you, Fritz. I will write on your tombstone—'Here lies Fritz Kober; the most faithful friend, the best soul, the most honest heart; good and simple as a child, brave as a hero, constant as a dove, and true as a hound.'"
"But am I all that?" said Fritz, amazed.
"Yes, you are all that!" said Charles, with a trembling voice. "You have been more than this to me, and I will never forget it. I was a poor, shrinking youth when I came to this camp; I knew nothing—could do nothing. My comrades, who soon found me out, mocked and complained of me, and played all manner of jokes upon me. They ridiculed me, because I had no beard; they mimicked me, because my voice was soft and unsteady; they asserted that I would make a miserable soldier, because I grew deadly pale at parade. Who was it took pity on me, and opposed themselves to my rude, unfeeling companions? Who scolded and threatened to strike them, if they did not allow me to go my own way, in peace and quiet? Who was patient with my stupidity, and taught me how to go through with my military duties creditably, and how to manage my horse? You! you, dear Fritz! you alone. You were always at my side, when others threatened. You were patient as a mother when she teaches her dear little boy his letters, and looks kindly upon him, and is good to him, even when he is dull and inattentive."
"Well," said Fritz Kober, thoughtfully, "one can do nothing better than to be good to a man who deserves it, and who is himself so kind, and pure, and brave, that a poor fellow like myself feels ashamed, and looks down when the soft eyes are fixed upon him. I tell you what, Charles Henry, there is a power in your eyes, and they have subdued me. I think the angels in heaven have just such eyes as yours, and when you look upon me so softly and kindly, my heart bounds with delight. I have dreamed of your eyes, Charles Henry; I have blushed in my sleep when I thought I had uttered a coarse curse, and you looked upon me sorrowfully. I know you cannot endure cursing, or drink, or even tobacco."
"My father was a poor schoolmaster," said Charles Henry; "we lived quietly together, and he could not bear cursing. He used to say, 'When men cursed, it hurt God like the toothache.' He said—'God had not made the corn to grow, that men might make brandy, but bread.' We were too poor to buy beer and wine, so we drank water, and were content."
"Your father was right," said Fritz, thoughtfully. "I believe, myself, corn was not intended to make brandy, and I don't care for it; I will give it up altogether. If we live through this war, and receive good bounty money, we will buy a few acres, and build us a little house, and live together, and cultivate our land, and plant corn; and, in the evening, when our work is done, we will sit on the bench before the door, and you will relate some of your beautiful little stories; and so we will live on together till we are old and die."
"But you have forgotten one thing, Fritz."
"What is that, Charles Henry?"
"You have forgotten that you will take a wife into your little house, and she will soon cast me out."
"Let her try it!" cried Fritz, enraged, and doubling his flat threateningly. "Let her try only to show the door to Charles Henry, and I will shut her out, and she shall never return—never! But," said he, softly, "it is not necessary to think of this; I will never take a wife. We will live together; we need no third person to make strife between us."
Charles said nothing. He looked smilingly into the glowing fire, and then at his comrade, with an amused but tender expression.
If Fritz had seen it, his heart would have bounded again, but he was too much occupied then with his own thoughts to look up.
"Listen, Charles. If nothing comes of our little piece of ground and our house—if my last ball comes to-morrow and carries me off—"
"Stop, stop, Fritz; I will hold my head so that the same ball will carry it off!"
"If you do that, I will be very angry with you," cried Fritz. "You are too young to die, and I will be glad even in my grave to know that you are walking on the green earth. In order to do well, you must have gold; therefore you must be my heir. If I fall, these beautiful gold pieces belong to you; you shall not put a tombstone over me. Buy yourself a few acres, Charles Henry, and when your corn grows and blossoms, that shall be my monument."
Charles took his hand, and his eyes were filled with tears. "Speak no more of death," said he, softly; "it makes my heart heavy, and I shall lose my courage in the battle to-morrow when I think of all you have said. Ugh! how cold it is! My soul feels frosted!"
"I will go and seek a little more wood," said Fritz, springing up, "and make a good fire, and then you shall be warmed."
He hurried off, and Charles remained alone by the tire, looking gravely on the glowing coals; he smiled from time to time, and then he breathed heavily, as if oppressed by some weighty secret. Suddenly he heard a voice behind him.
"Ah! I have found the fire again! Good-evening, children."
"Good-evening, sir king. Comrades, wake up; the king is here!"
"No, no; let your comrades sleep," said the king, softly. "The fire will do me good. I found the right path to the fire, as I said Your dragoons have uncovered my quarters, and the cold blasts of wind whistle through them and freeze the water in my room. I prefer to sit by the fire and warm myself." He was about to seat himself on the straw near the fire, when a harsh voice called out:
"March on!—every lazy scamp wants a place by the fire, but not one of them brings a splinter of wood."
Fritz Kober was behind them with the wood; he had found it with great difficulty, and he was angry when he saw a strange soldier in his place by the side of Charles Henry.
The king turned to him quietly.
"You are right, my son!—come on! I will make room for you."
"It is the king!" exclaimed Fritz, turning as if to fly. But the king held him.
"Remain where you are, my son; you brought the wood, and you have the best right. I only wish to warm myself a little, and I think there is room for us all."
He seated himself upon the straw, and nodded to Fritz Kober to take a seat by him. Fritz tremblingly obeyed, and Charles stirred the fire, which flamed up beautifully.
King Frederick gazed at the flickering flames. Charles and Fritz sat on each side of him, and watched him in respectful silence; around the watch-fire lay the sleeping dragoons. After a long pause the king raised his head and looked about him.
"Well, children, to-morrow will be a hot day, and we must strike the Austrians boldly."
"Yes, as we struck the French at Rossbach, your majesty," said Fritz. "Mark me! it will go off bravely, and when we are done with the Austrians we will march to Constantinople."
"What will we do in Constantinople?" said the king.
"Nothing, your majesty, but march there with you, whip the Turks, and take all their gold!"
"Not quite so fast, my son."
"Why not, sir king? We have chopped up the French army; to-morrow we will do the same for the Austrians; and then, why not whip the Turks?"
The king smiled, and said: "Well, well, but first we must give the Austrians a good drubbing."
"And, by my soul, we will do that," said Fritz, eagerly. "Your majesty may believe me—I will march with you to the end of the earth, and so will my friend Charles Buschman. If we have only a little to eat, we will find water everywhere; so lead us where you will!"
The king's eyes flashed: "By heaven! it is a pleasure to lead such soldiers to battle!" Then turning, with a kindly expression, to Fritz Kober, he said: "Can you write?"
"Not well, your majesty; but Charles Henry Buschman can write much better than I. He is a scholar."
"Is that true?" said the king, gayly, to Charles.
"He will say 'No,' sir king; he cannot bear to be praised. But the truth remains, the truth even when denied—Charles is the bravest and wisest soldier in the army, and if there is justice in the world he will be made an officer."
"You must get your commission first, Fritz," said Charles, indifferently; "you earned it long ago, and if the king only knew all that you did at Rossbach, you would have it now."
"What did he do?" said the king.
"Nothing, your majesty," said Fritz.
"Yes, your majesty," said Charles, zealously; "he hewed right and left until the sparks flew in every direction. Our commander had told us the disgusting Frenchmen wanted to take our winter quarters, and even when Fritz Kober's sword was still whizzing among them, they had the insolence to cry out, 'Quartier! quartier!'—then was Fritz enraged, and cut them down like corn-stalks, and cried out, 'Yes, yes! I will give you quarters, but they will be underground!'"
"Only think," said Fritz, "they were flying before us, and the impudent scamps, when we captured them, would still twit us with the winter quarters they had intended to rob us of. How could I help cutting them to pieces?"
"But he spared those who cried 'Pardon,' your majesty," said Charles Henry, "he only took them prisoners. Nine prisoners did Fritz Kober take at Rossbach." [Footnote: The Prussians had been told that the Frenchmen intended to take possession of their winter quarters, and this enraged them greatly. When the French cavalry were flying at Rossbach, they used the German word quartier, thinking they would be better understood. The Prussians looked upon this as an insolent jest, and gave no quarter.—Nicolai's Characteristics and Anecdotes ] "I suppose the five prisoners you took were men of straw, that you say nothing of them," cried Fritz.
The king looked well pleased from one to the other.
"It appears to me you are both brave soldiers, and the braver be cause you do not boast of your deeds. Are you always such good friends as to seek to do each other kindly service?"
"Your majesty, Charles Henry is my truest friend, and if you wish to do me a service, make him an officer."
"But he says he will not be made an officer unless you are made one, so there is nothing left for me to do but to promote both! If in the battle to-morrow you fight like heroes, you shall both be made officers. Now, children, be quiet, let me rest a little. I do not want to sleep—cannot you tell me some little story, some pretty little fairy tale to keep my heavy eyes from closing?"
"Charles knows many fairy tales, sir king, and if you command it he must relate one."
"Oh, yes, your majesty, I know the history of a fairy who knew and loved the brave son of a king, and when the prince went into battle she transformed herself into a sword, that she might be always by the side of him she loved."
"Tell me this pretty story, my son."
Charles Henry began to relate. Deep silence reigned about the camp. Here and there a word was spoken in sleep, a loud snore, or the neighing of a horse. The fires were burned down, and the coals glowed like fire-flies upon the dark ground.
The moon stood over the camp and illuminated the strange and parti-colored scene with her soft rays, and called out the most wonderful contrasts of light and shade. Far, far away, in the dim distance, one blood-red point could be seen; it looked like a crimson star in the east. This was the camp-fire of the Austrians. This mighty army was encamped behind Leuthen. The king gazed in that direction with eager expectation, and listened with painful attention to every distant sound.
The silence of death reigned there; no sound or voice was heard. The king, being convinced of this, sank back once more upon the straw, and listened to Charles Henry Buschman.
It was indeed a beautiful fairy tale; so wild and so fantastic that Fritz listened with eyes extended and almost breathless to every word. At last, as the handsome prince was drawing his last breath, the lovely fairy sprang from his sword and brought the dead to life with her warm kisses, Fritz was in an ecstasy of excitement, and interrupted Charles by an outcry of rapture.
"This is a true story, sir king!" cried he, passionately; "every word is true, and he who don't believe it is a puppy!"
"Well, well," said the king, "I believe every word, friend."
Charles Henry went on with his fairy tales; but, notwithstanding the wonders he related, sleep at last overcame his friend! Fritz's eyes closed, but he murmured in his sleep: "It is all true—all true!"
Charles Henry himself, wearied by the exertions of the last few days, felt his eyelids to be as heavy as lead, his words came slowly, then ceased altogether.
The king looked at his slumbering soldiers, then far away toward the watch-fires of the Austrian camp.
Silence still reigned. The moon showed distant objects in the clearest light, and nothing suspicious or alarming could be seen. "It was false intelligence which was brought to me," said the king. "It is not true that the Austrians are on the march and intend to surprise me. They sleep!—we will not see them till tomorrow. I will withdraw to my quarters."
King Frederick stepped slowly through the ranks of the sleepers, and gave a sign to the officer and the four soldiers who had accompanied him, but remained at a distance from the fire, to move lightly and awaken no one.
CHAPTER XIV. THE BATTLE OF LEUTHEN.
Early the next morning the king left his tent. The generals were anxiously awaiting him. His countenance glowed with energy and determination, and his brilliant eyes flashed with a sparkling light. Inspired by the appearance of their hero, the clouded brows of the assembled generals became clearer. They felt that his lofty brow was illumined by genius, and that the laurels which crowned it could never fade. They were now confident, courageous, ready for the battle, and, although they had at first disapproved of the king's plan of attacking the enemy who had twice overcome them, now that he was in their midst they felt secure of success.
Spies reported that the Austrian army had left their camp at sunrise and advanced toward Leuthen; they spoke much and loudly of the strength of the enemy, and of the eagerness of the soldiers to fall upon the weak Prussian army.
At a sign from the king, Seidlitz approached him, and informed him of the latest rumors.
"It is a fearful army we are to attack," said Seidlitz; "more than twice our number."
"I am aware of the strength of the enemy," said the king, quietly, "but nothing is left for me but victory or death. Were they stationed upon the church-tower of Breslau I would attack them."
Then approaching the other generals, he continued in a loud voice:
"You are aware, gentlemen, that Prince Charles, of Lothringen, succeeded in taking Schweidnitz, defeating the Duke of Bevern, and has made himself master of Breslau, while I was protecting Berlin from the French army. The capital of Silesia, and all the munitions of war stowed there, have been lost. All these circumstances are calculated to distress me deeply, had I not a boundless confidence in your courage, your resolution, and your devoted love to your country. There is, I think, not one among us who has not been distinguished for some great, some noble deed. I feel assured that your courage will not now fail in this hour of direst need. I would feel as if I had accomplished nothing were I to leave Silesia in the possession of the Austrians. Against all acknowledged rules of war, I am determined to attack the army of Charles of Lothringen, though it is three times as strong as my own. Notwithstanding the number of the enemy, or its advantageous position, I feel confident of success. This step must be taken, or all is lost! We must defeat the Austrians, or fall beneath their batteries! This is my opinion, and thus I shall act. Make my determination known to every officer. Acquaint the soldiers with the events that will soon occur—tell them that I require unconditional obedience! Remember that you are Prussians!—do not show yourselves unworthy of the name! But should there be any among you who fear to share these dangers with us, they can leave at once, and shall not be reproached by me."
The king ceased speaking, and looked inquiringly at his listeners. Upon every countenance he read determination, courage, and inspiration, but here and there were some whose brows became clouded at the king's last suggestion, and tears were sparkling in old General Rohr's eyes. The king pressed the general's hand almost tenderly.
"Ah, my dear friend," said he, "I did not suspect you. But I again say, that if any amongst you wishes leave of absence, he shall have it."
Profound quiet followed these words. No one approached the king—no sound disturbed the solemn stillness. At a distance, the loud shouts and hurrahs of the soldiers, preparing for battle, could be heard. The king's countenance became clear, and he continued with enthusiasm:
"I knew beforehand that none of you would leave me. I counted upon your assistance; with it, I shall be victorious. Should I fall in this battle, you must look to your country for reward; and now, away to the camp, and repeat to your men what I have said to you. Farewell, gentlemen, before long we will either have defeated the enemy, or we will see one another no more."
And now there arose from the generals and officers loud, joyous shouts.
"We will conquer or die!" cried Seidlitz, whose daring, youthful countenance sparkled with delight. "We will conquer or die!" was repeated by all.
At last the brave words reached the camp, and were re-echoed by thirty thousand lusty throats. There was universal joy. Old gray-headed warriors, who had followed the king into many battles, who had conquered repeatedly with him, shook hands with and encouraged each other, and warned the younger soldiers to be brave and fearless.
Resting upon his horse, the king had been a joyful witness to all this enthusiasm. At this moment, a troop of soldiers, numbering about fifty, approached him. The commanding officer was greeted with a kindly smile.
"You are Lieutenant von Frankenberg?" said the king. And as the lieutenant bowed in answer, he continued: "General Kleist has spoken of you as being a brave and trustworthy officer. I have therefore a strange commission for you. Listen well! do not lose a word of what I say. Come nearer. And now," said the king, in a low voice, "be attentive. In the approaching battle, I will have to expose myself more than usual; you and your fifty men shall guard me. You must watch over me, and be careful that I fall not into the hands of the enemy. Should I fall, cover my body with your mantle, and carry me to the wagon, which shall be stationed behind the first battalion. Leave me there, and tell no one of what has occurred. The battle must continue—the enemy must be defeated."
When the king had thus made his testament, he dismissed the lieutenant, and advanced toward his body-guard.
"Good-morning!" cried the king, cheerfully.
"Good-morning, father!" was the universal answer. Then the old graybeards, standing beside the king, said again:
"Good-morning, father! it is very cold to-day."
"It will be warm enough before the day is over, boys!" said the king. "There is much to be done. Be brave, my children, and I will care for you as a father."
An old soldier, with silver hair, and the scars of many wounds upon his face, approached the king.
"Your majesty," said he, in an earnest voice, "if we are crippled what will become of us?"
"You shall be taken care of," said the king.
"Will your majesty give me your hand upon this promise?"
This question was followed by deep silence. All present were gazing anxiously at the king and the old guard. The king advanced, and laid his hand in that of the old soldier.
"I swear, that any of you who are crippled, shall be taken care of."
The old warrior turned with tearful eyes to his comrades.
"Well," said he, "you hear him? he is and will continue to be the King of Prussia and our father. The one who deserts is a rascal."
"Long live our Fritz!" and throughout the whole camp resounded the cry—"Long live our Fritz! Long live our king!"
"Onward! onward!" was the cry, for at the end of the plain the enemy could be seen approaching.
"Forward!" cried the soldiers, falling one by one into their places, as the king, followed by Lieutenant Frankenberg and his men, galloped past them.
A turn in the road showed the Prussians the enormous size of the enemy's army. Silence prevailed for a few moments. Suddenly, here and there a voice could be heard singing a battle-hymn, and soon, accompanied by the band, the whole army was breathing out in song an earnest prayer to God.
A guard, approaching the king, said:
"Is it your majesty's desire that the soldiers should cease singing?"
The king shook his head angrily.
"No!" said he, "let them alone. With such an army, God can but give me victory."
Nearer and nearer came the enemy, covering the plain with their numbers, and gazing with amazement at the little army that dared to oppose them. By the Austrian generals, smiling so contemptuously upon their weak opponents, one thing had been forgotten. The Austrians, confident of success, were not in the least enthusiastic; the Prussians, aware of their danger, and inspired by love for their king, had nerved themselves to the contest. The armies now stood before each other in battle array. The king was at the front, the generals were flying here and there, delivering their orders. In obedience to these orders, the army suddenly changed its position, and so strange, so unsuspected was the change, that General Daun, turning to the Prince Lothringen, said:
"The Prussians are retreating! we will not attack them."
Certain of this fact, they were off their guard, and disorder reigned in their camp. This security was suddenly changed to terror. They saw the Prussians rapidly approaching, threatening at once both wings of their army. Messenger upon messenger was sent, imploring help from General Daun and Charles of Lothringen. The Prussians were upon them, felling them to the earth, regardless of danger regardless of the numerous cannon which were playing upon them. Daun, with a part of his command, hurried to the aid of General Luchesi, but he was too late; Luchesi had fallen, and terror and disorder were rapidly spreading in the right wing, while from the left, Nadasky had already dispatched ten messengers, imploring assistance from Charles of Lothringen. In doubt as to which most needed help, he at last determined upon the right wing, whose ranks were thinning rapidly; he sent them aid, and took no notice of Nadasky's messengers. And now the Prussians fell upon the left wing of the Austrians. This attack was made with fury, and the Austrians retreated in wild disorder. It was in vain that other regiments came to their aid; they had no time to arrange themselves before they were forced back. They stumbled upon one another, the flying overtaking and trampling upon the flying. Again and again the imperial guards endeavored to place themselves in line of battle; they were at once overpowered by the Prussian cavalry, who, intoxicated with victory, threw themselves upon them with demoniac strength. Yes, intoxicated—mad with victory, were these Prussians. With perfect indifference they saw their friends, their comrades, fall beside them; they did not mourn over them, but revenged their death tenfold upon the enemy. Those even who fell were inspired by enthusiasm and courage. Forgetful of their wounds, of their torn and broken limbs, they gazed with joy and pride at their comrades, joining in their shouts and hurrahs, until death sealed their lips.
A Prussian grenadier, whose left leg had been shot off in the early part of the battle, raised himself from the ground: using his gun as a crutch, he dragged himself to a spot which the army had to pass, and cried to the comrades who were looking pityingly upon his bleeding limb: "Fight like brave Prussians, brothers! Conquer or die for your king!"
Another grenadier, who had lost both legs, lay upon the ground weltering in his blood, quietly smoking his pipe. An Austrian general galloping by held in his horse and looked in amazement at the soldier. "How is it possible, comrade," said he, "that in your fearful condition you can smoke? Death is near to you."
Taking the pipe from his mouth, the grenadier answered with white, trembling lips: "Well, and what of it? Do I not die for my king?"
Where the danger was the greatest, there was the king encouraging his soldiers. When a column was seen to reel, there was Frederick in their midst inspiring new courage by his presence. The king was the soul of his army, and as his soul was sans peur et sans reproche, the army was victorious. Napoleon, speaking of this battle, says: "Cette bataille de Leuthen est propre a immortaliser le caractere moral de Frederic, et met a jour ses grands talents militaires." And somewhat later, he says: "Cette bataille etait un chef d'oeuvre de mouvements, de manoeuvres, et de resolution, seul elle suffirait pour immortaliser Frederic, et lui donne un rang parmi les plus grands generaux!"
The victory was gained. The defeated Austrians fled in haste, leaving a hundred cannon, fifty banners, and more than twenty thousand prisoners in the hands of the Prussians; while upon the battle-field six thousand of their dead and wounded were lying, with but two thousand dead and wounded Prussians. The victory belonged to Prussia. They had all distinguished themselves; the king and every common soldier had done his duty. Frederick, accompanied by his staff, to which Lieutenant Frankenberg and his fifty men did not now belong, passed the bloody, smoking battle-field. His countenance was sparkling with joy—his eyes shone like stars. He seemed looking for some one to whom to open his grateful heart.
He who had given most assistance in the battle was Prince Moritz von Dessau, whom at the battle of Collin the king had threatened with his sword, and with whom he had ever since been angry because his prophecy proved true. But there was no anger now in the king's heart; and as he had, in the presence of all his staff, threatened the prince, he wished also in their presence to thank and reward him. The prince was at a slight distance from him, so busily engaged in giving orders that he did not perceive the king until he was quite close to him.
"I congratulate you upon this victory," said the king, in a loud voice—"I congratulate you, field-marshal."
The prince bowed in a silent, absent manner, and continued to give his orders.
The king, raising his voice, said: "Do you not hear, field-marshal? I congratulate you!"
The prince looked hastily at the king. "How? Your majesty," said he, doubtfully, "has appointed me—"
"My field-marshal," said the king, interrupting him. "And well have you deserved this promotion; you have assisted me in this battle as I have never before been assisted." He grasped the prince's hand and pressed it tenderly, and there were tears of emotion not only in the eyes of the new field-marshal, but also in those of the king.
A fearful day's work was finished—how fearful, could be seen by the wounded, the dying lying pell-mell upon the battle-field amidst the dead, too exhausted to move. But the day had passed. The cries and shouts of the flying enemy had now ceased—the victory, the battle-field, belonged to the Prussians. What was now most needed by them was an hour's rest. Above the bloody battle-field, above the dying, the sleeping, the groaning, the sighing, now rose the moon grandly, solemnly, as if to console the dead and to lead the living to raise their grateful prayers to heaven. And grateful praise ascended above that night—thanks for the preservation of their own and their friends' lives—thanks for their hero's victory. Side by side, whispering in low tones, lay the soldiers—for the hour seemed to all too solemn to be broken by any loud sound.
No hearts were so full of gratitude and joy as those of Charles Henry Buschman and Fritz Kober. In the pressure of the battle they had been separated and had not again met during the engagement. In vain they had sought and called upon one another, and each one thought of the fearful possibility that the other had fallen. At last they stumbled upon each other. With shouts of joy they rushed into each other's arms.
"You are not wounded, Fritz Kober?" said Charles Henry, with a beating heart.
"I am unharmed; but you, my friend?"
"Only a little cut in the hand, nothing more. How many prisoners did you take?"
"Seven, Charles Henry."
"You will be promoted! You will be an officer!"
"Not unless you are also. How many prisoners did you take?"
"I am not sure, Fritz; I think there were nine. But the captain will know."
"We will both be promoted, the king promised it, and now I am willing to accept it."
"But what is this to us now, my friend?" said Charles Henry; "we have found one another, and I am indifferent to all else."
"You are right, Charles Henry; this has been a fearful, a terrible day. My knees tremble beneath me—let us rest a while."
He laid himself upon the ground. Charles Henry knelt beside him, laying one hand upon his shoulder, and looked at the starry sky; a holy smile glorified his countenance. As he gazed at the moon, tender feelings were at work in his heart. He thought of his distant home—of the graves of his loved parents, upon which the moon was now shining as brightly as upon this bloody battle-field. He thought how kind and merciful God had been to preserve his friend, his only consolation, the one joy of his weary, lonesome life. The solemn stillness by which he was surrounded, the bright moon, light which illuminated the battle-field, the thought of the hard struggle of the past day, all acted strongly upon his feelings. The brave, daring soldier, Charles Henry Buschman, was once more transformed into the gentle, soft-hearted Anna Sophia Detzloff; now, when danger was past, she felt herself a weak, trembling woman. Deep, inexpressible emotion, earnest prayers to God, were busy in Anna Sophia's heart.
Kneeling upon the ground, resting on her friend, she raised her eyes heavenward, and commenced singing in an earnest, impassioned tone that glorious hymn, "Thanks unto God!" Fritz Kober, actuated by the same feelings, joined in the hymn, and here and there a comrade lent his voice to swell the anthem; it became stronger, louder, until at last, like a mighty stream, it passed over the battle-field, knocking at every heart, and urging it to prayer, finding everywhere an open ear.
The moon stood smiling above the battle-field, upon which eight thousand dead and wounded men were lying. Even the wounded, who a short time before filled the air with groans of pain and agony, raised themselves to join in the song of praise which was now sung, not by a hundred, not by a thousand, but by thirty thousand soldiers, thirty thousand heroes, who, after that bloody day had earned the right to sing "Thanks unto God."
CHAPTER XV. WINTER QUARTERS IN BRESLAU.
Faint and exhausted, the king had withdrawn to his room; he was alone. To-day was the twenty-fourth of January, Frederick's birthday, and, although he had forbidden all congratulations, he could not avoid receiving the highest tribunals of Breslau, and also a few deputations of the citizens of this reconquered city. These visits wearied the king; he was grave and out of spirits. Once more alone, he could indulge in the sad memories that came over him involuntarily and forcibly. For here in Breslau he had lately experienced a bitter disappointment; every thing in the castle reminded him of the treacherous friend whom he bad loved so dearly, and who had so shamefully betrayed him.
The king was now thinking of the Bishop von Schaffgotsch. An expression of painful gloom clouded his face, he felt solitary and deserted; the cold, silent room chilled his heart, and the snow blown against the window by the howling winds, oppressed him strangely. He was more dejected and anxious than he had ever felt before a battle.
"The marquis cannot travel in such weather," he said, sighing, "and my musicians will be careful not to trust themselves upon the highway; they will imagine the snow has blocked up the way, and that it is impossible to come through. They will remain in Berlin, caring but little that I am counting the weary hours until they arrive. Yes, yes, this is an example of the almighty power of a king; a few snow-flakes are sufficient to set his commands aside, and the king remains but an impotent child of the dust. Of what avail is it that I have conquered the Austrians and the French? I have sown dragons' teeth from which new enemies will arise, new battles, perhaps new defeats. What have I gained by consecrating my heart to my friends? They are but serpents—I have nourished them in my breast, and they will sting when I least suspect them. Even those whom I still trust, forsake me now when I most need them!"
The wild storm increased, and blew a cloud of snow-flakes against the window, and the wind whistled mournfully in the chimney.
"No," murmured the king, "D'Argens will certainly not come; he will remain quietly in his beloved bed, and from there write me a touching epistle concerning the bonds of friendship. I know that when feeling does not flow from the hearts of men, it flows eloquently from ink as a pitiful compensation. But," he continued after a pause, "this is all folly! Solitude makes a dreamer of me—I am sighing for my friends as a lover sighs for his sweetheart! Am I then so entirely alone? Have I not my books? Come, Lucretius, thou friend in good and evil days; thou sage, thou who hast never left me without counsel and consolation! Come and cheer thy pupil—teach him how to laugh at this pitiful world as it deserves!"
Taking Lucretius from the table, and stretching himself upon the sofa, he commenced reading. Deep stillness surrounded him. Bells were ringing in the distance in honor of the royal birthday. The Breslauers, who had so shortly before joyfully welcomed the conquering Austrians, now desired to convince the King of Prussia that they were his zealous subjects. The evening of the kingly birthday they wished to show the joy of their hearts by a brilliant illumination.
The king still read, and became so absorbed that he did not hear the door gently opened. The tall, slender form of the Marquis d'Argens appeared at the threshold. Overcome with joyful emotions, he remained standing, and gazing with clouded eyes at the king. Composing himself, he closed the door softly behind him and advanced.
"Sire, will you forgive me for entering unannounced?"
The king sprang from his seat and held out both his hands. "Welcome, welcome! I thank you for coming."
The marquis could not reply; he pressed his lips silently upon the king's hands. "My God," he said, in a trembling voice, "how my heart has longed for this happy moment—how many offerings I have vowed to Heaven if allowed to see the king once more."
"You did not win Heaven by promises alone, friend, but you have offered up a victim. You have left that precious bed which you have occupied for the past eight months—you have gained a victory over yourself which is of more value than many victories."
"Ah, your majesty," cried the marquis, whose black eyes were again sparkling with mirth, "I now feel that my poor heart spoke the truth when it declared that you were ever by its side. We have really not been separated, and your majesty begins with me to-day where you left off but yesterday. You laugh now as then at me, and my poor bed, which has heard for more than a year past only my sighs and prayers for your majesty's success. It was not difficult for me to leave it and to obey the summons of my king. If you think this conquest over myself worth more than a victory over our enemies, how lightly the hero of Rosbach and Leuthen regards victories!"
"Not so, marquis; but you know what the renowned King of the Hebrews said—that wise king who rejoiced in a thousand wives: 'He who conquers himself is greater than he who taketh a city.' You, marquis, are this rare self-conqueror, and you shall be rewarded right royally. I have had rooms prepared as warm and comfortable as the marquise herself could have arranged for you. The windows are stuffed with cotton, furs are lying before the stove, cap and foot-muff, so your faithful La Pierre may wrap and bundle you up to your heart's content. Not a breath of air shall annoy you, and all your necessities shall be provided for with as much reverence as if you were the holy fire in the temple of Vesta, and I the priestess that guards it."
The marquis laughed heartily. "Should the fire ever burn low and the flame pale, I beg my exalted priestess to cast her burning glance upon me, and thus renew my heat. Sire, allow me, before all other things, to offer my congratulations. May Heaven bless this day which rose like a star of hope upon all who love the great, the beautiful, the exalted, and the—"
"Enough, enough," cried Frederick; "if you begin in this way, I shall fly from you; I shall believe you are one of those stupid deputations with which etiquette greets the king. In this room, friend, there is no king, and when we are here alone we are two simple friends, taking each other warmly by the hand and congratulating ourselves upon having lived through another weary year, and having the courage bravely to meet the years that remain. Should you still desire to add a wish to this, marquis, pray that the war fever which has seized all Europe, may disappear—that the triumvirate of France, Russia, and Austria, may be vanquished—that the tyrants of this universe may not succeed in binding the whole world in the chains they have prepared for it."
"Your majesty will know how to obtain this result—to break this chain—and if they will not yield willingly, the hero of Rossbach and Leuthen will know how to crush them in his just rage."
"God grant it!" sighed the king; "I long for peace, although my enemies say I am the evil genius that brings discord and strife into the world. They say that if Frederick of Prussia did not exist, the entire world would be a paradise of peace and love. I could say to them, as Demosthenes said to the Athenians: 'If Philip were dead, what would it signify? You would soon make another Philip.' I say to the Austrians: 'Your ambition, your desire for universal reign, would soon rouse other enemies. The liberties of Germany, and indeed of all Europe, will always find defenders.' We will speak no more of these sad themes; they belong to the past and the future. Let us try to forget, friend, that we are in winter quarters at Breslau, and imagine ourselves to be at our dear Sans-Souci."
"In our beautiful convent," said the marquis, "whose abbot has so long been absent, and whose monks are scattered to the four winds."
"It is true," sighed the king, gloomily, "widely scattered; and when the abbot returns to Sans-Souci, every thing will be changed and lonely. Oh, marquis, how much I have lost since we parted!"
"How much you have gained, sire! how many new laurels crown your heroic brow!"
"You speak of my victories," said the king, shaking his head; "but believe me, my heart has suffered defeats from which it will never recover. I am not speaking of the death of my mother—although that is a wound that will never heal; that came from the hand of Providence; against its decrees no man dare murmur. I speak of more bitter, more cruel defeats, occasioned by the ingratitude and baseness of men."
"Your majesty still thinks of the unworthy Abbot of Prades," said D'Argens, sadly.
"No, marquis; that hurt, I confess. I liked him, but I never loved him—he was not my friend, his treachery grieved but did not surprise me. I knew he was weak. He sold me! Finding himself in my camp, he made use of his opportunity and betrayed to the enemy all that came to his knowledge. He had a small soul, and upon such men you cannot count. But from another source I received a great wrong—this lies like iron upon my heart, and hardens it. I loved Bishop Schaffgotsch, marquis; I called him friend; I gave him proof of my friendship. I had a right to depend on his faithfulness, and believe in a friendship he had so often confirmed by oaths. My love, at least was unselfish, and deserved not to be betrayed. But he was false in the hour of danger, like Peter who betrayed his Master. The Austrians had scarcely entered Breslau, when he not only denied me, but went further—he trampled upon the orders of my house, and held a Te Deum in the dome in honor of the Austrian victory at Collin." The king ceased and turned away, that the marquis might not see the tears that clouded his eyes.
"Sire," cried the marquis, deeply moved, "forget the ingratitude of these weak souls, who were unworthy of a hero's friendship."
"I will; but enough of this. You are here, and I still believe in you, marquis. You and the good Lord Marshal are the only friends left me to lean upon when the baseness of men makes my heart fail."
"These friends will never fail you, sire," said the marquis, deeply moved; "your virtues and your love made them strong."
The king took his hand affectionately. "Let us forget the past," said he, gayly; "and as we both, in our weak hours, consider ourselves poets, let us dream that we are in my library in our beloved Sans-Souci. We will devote this holy time of peace to our studies, for that is, without doubt, the best use we can make of it. You shall see a flood of verses with which I amused myself in camp, and some epigrams written against my enemies."
"But if we were even now in Sans-Souci, sire, I do not think you would give this hour to books. I dare assert you would be practising with Quantz, and preparing for the evening concerts."
"Yes, yes; but here we are denied that happiness," said the king, sadly. "I have written for a part of my band, and they will be here I hope in eight days; but Graun and Quantz will certainly not—"The king paused and listened attentively. It seemed to him as if he heard the sound of a violin in the adjoining room, accompanied by the light tones of a flute. Yes, it was indeed so; some one was tuning a violin and the soft sound of the flute mingled with the violoncello. A flush of rosy joy lighted the king's face—he cast a questioning glance upon the marquis, who nodded smilingly. With a joyful cry the king crossed the room—an expression of glad surprise burst from his lips.
There they were, the loved companions of his evening concerts. There was Graun, with his soft, dreamy, artistic face; there was Quantz, with his silent, discontented look—whose grumbling, even Frederick was compelled to respect; there was the young Fasch, whom the king had just engaged, and who played the violoncello in the evening concerts.
As the king advanced to meet them, they greeted him loudly. "Long live our king!—our great Frederick!" Even Quantz forgot himself for a moment, and laughed good-humoredly.
"Listen, sire; it will be a mortal sin if you scold us for coming to you without being summoned by your majesty. This is through—out all Prussia a festal day, and no one should desecrate it by scolding or fault-finding—not even the king."
"Oh, I am not disposed to scold," said Frederick, in low tones; he did not wish them to hear how his voice trembled—"I do not scold—I thank you heartily."
"We had nothing better to send your majesty on your birthday than our unworthy selves," said Graun; "we come, therefore, to lay ourselves at our king's feet, and say to him: 'Accept our hearts, and do not spurn the gift.' A warm, human heart is the richest gift one man can offer another. Your majesty is a great king, and a good and great man, and we dare approach you, therefore, as man to man."
"And my Graun is so renowned a composer, that any man must count it an honor to be beloved by him," said Frederick, tenderly.
"For myself," said Quantz, gravely, handing the king a small roll carefully wrapped up, "I have brought something more than my naked heart in honor of my king's birthday. I pray your majesty to accept it graciously." [Footnote: Pocus, "Frederick the Great and his Friends."]
The king opened it hastily. "A flute!" cried he, joyfully, "and a flute made for me by the great master Quantz, I am sure."
"Yes, your majesty; all the time you were in the field, I have worked upon it. As the courier brought the news of the battle of Leuthen, all Berlin shouted for joy, and the banners floated in every street and at every window. Then this flute broke its silence for the first time—its first music was a hosanna to our great king."
"From this time forth," said Frederick, "let no man dare to say that battles are in vain. The bloody field of Leuthen produced a flute from Quantz; and by Heaven, that is a greater rarity than the most complete victory in these warlike days!"
"Sire," said the marquis, drawing some letters from his pocket, "I have also some gifts to offer. This is a letter from Algarotti, and a small box of Italian snuff, which he begs to add as an evidence of his rejoicing in your victories. [Footnote: Ibid.] Here is a letter from Voltaire, and one from Lord Marshal."
"From all my distant friends—they have all thought of me," said Frederick, as he took the letters.
"But I have no time to read letters now; we will have music, and if agreeable to you, messieurs, we will practise a quartet which I composed during my solitude these last few days."
"Let us try it," said Quantz, carelessly opening the piano.
Frederick went to his room to seek his note-book, and place his letters upon the table, but, before he returned, he called the marquis to him.
"D'Argens," said he, "may I not thank you for this agreeable surprise?"
"Yes, sire, I proposed it, and took the responsibility upon myself. If your majesty is displeased, I am the only culprit!"
"And why have you made yourself the postilion, and brought me all these letters, marquis?"
"I will tell you, marquis," said Frederick, with a loving glance, and laying his hand upon D'Argens' shoulder; "you did this, because you knew my poor heart had received a deep wound, and you wished to heal it. You wished to surround me with many friends, and make me forget the one who fails, and who betrayed me. I thank you, marquis! Yours is a great heart, and I believe your balsam has magic in it. I thank you for this hour, it has done me good; and though the world may succeed in poisoning my heart, I will never—never distrust you; I will never forget this hour!"
"And now, messieurs," said Frederick, as he returned to the musicians, "we will take our parts, and you, Quantz, take your place at the piano."
The concert began. Frederick stood behind the piano, at which Quantz sat; Graun and Fasch had withdrawn to the window, in order to enjoy the music, as Frederick was first to play a solo on his flute, with a simple piano accompaniment.
The king played artistically, and with a rare enthusiasm. The marquis was in ecstasy, and Graun uttered a few low bravos. Suddenly, all the musicians shuddered, and Quantz was heard to mutter angrily. The king had committed a great fault in his composition—a fault against the severest rules of art. He played on, however, quietly, and said, when he had completed the page—"Da capo!" and recommenced. Again came the false notes, frightful to the ears of musicians. And now Graun and Fasch could not keep time. The king held his breath.
"Go on, Quantz," said he, zealously, placing the flute again to his lips.
Quantz cast a sullen look at him.
"As your majesty pleases," said he, and he played so fiercely that Graun and Fasch shivered, and Quantz himself whistled to drown the discord. The unlearned marquis looked in blessed ignorance upon his royal friend, and the beautiful music brought tears to his eyes. When the piece was ended, the king said to Quantz:
"Do you find this text false?"
"Yes, your majesty, it is false!"
"And you two also believe it false?"
"Yes, your majesty, it is false!" said Graun and Fasch.
"But, if the composer will have it so?"
"It is still false!" said Quantz, sullenly.
"But if it pleases me, and I think it melodious?"
"Your majesty can never find it so," said Quantz, angrily. "The notes are false, and what is false can never please your majesty."
"Well, well!" said the king, good-humoredly; "don't be quite so angry! it is, after all, not a lost battle! [Footnote: The king's own words.] If this passage is impossible, we will strike it out."
"If your majesty does that, it will be a beautiful composition, and I would be proud myself to have composed it."
The king smiled, well pleased. It was evident that this praise of his proud and stern master was most acceptable to the hero of Leuthen and Rossbach.
CHAPTER XVI. THE BROKEN HEART.
A carriage stopped before the pleasure palace of Oranienburg. The lady who sat in it, cast anxious, questioning glances at the windows, and breathed a heavy sigh when she saw the closed shutters, and observed the absence of life and movement in the palace. At this moment an officer stepped hastily from the great portal to greet the lady, and assist her to descend.
"Does he still live?" said she, breathlessly.
"He lives, countess, and awaits you eagerly!" said the officer.
She did not reply, but raised her large, melancholy eyes thankfully to heaven, and her lips moved as if in prayer.
They stepped silently and rapidly through the dazzling saloons, now drear and deserted. Their pomp and splendor was painful; it harmonized but little with their sad presentiments.
"We have arrived, countess," said the officer, as they stood before a closed and thickly-curtained door. "The prince is in this garden-saloon."
The lady's heart beat loudly, and her lips were pale as death. She leaned for a moment against the door, and tried to gather strength.
"I am ready I announce me to the prince!"
"That is unnecessary, countess. The prince's nerves are so sensitive, that the slightest noise does not escape him. He heard the rolling of your carriage-wheels, and knows that you are here. He is expecting you, and has commanded that you come unannounced. Have the goodness to enter; you will be alone with the prince." He raised the curtain, and the countess looked back once more.
"Is there any hope?" said she, to her companion.
"None! The physician says he must die to-day!"
The countess opened the door so noiselessly, that not the slightest sound betrayed her presence. She sank upon a chair near the entrance, and fixed her tearful eyes with inexpressible agony upon the pale form, which lay upon the bed, near the open door, leading into the garden.
What!—this wan, emaciated figure, that countenance of deadly pallor, those fallen cheeks, those bloodless lips, the hollow temples, thinly shaded by the lifeless, colorless hair—was that Augustus William?—the lover of her youth, the worshipped dream-picture of her whole life, the never-effaced ideal of her faithful heart?
As she looked upon him, the sweetly-painful, sad, and yet glorious past, seemed to fill her soul. She felt that her heart was young, and beat, even now, as ardently for him who lay dying before her, as in the early time, when they stood side by side in the fulness of youth, beauty, and strength—when they stood side by side for the last time.
At that time, she died! Youth, happiness, heart were buried; but now, as she looked upon him, the coffin unclosed, the shroud fell back, and the immortal spirits greeted each other with the love of the olden time.
And now, Laura wept no more. Enthusiasm, inspiration were written upon her face. She felt no earthly pain; the heavenly peace of the resurrection morning filled her soul. She arose and approached the prince. He did not see her; his eyes were closed. Perhaps he slumbered; perhaps the king of terrors had already pressed his first bewildering kiss upon the pale brow. Laura bent over and looked upon him. Her long, dark ringlets fell around his face like a mourning veil. She listened to his light breathing, and, bowing lower, kissed the poor, wan lips.
He opened his eyes very quietly, without surprise. Peacefully, joyfully he looked up at her. And Laura—she asked no longer if that wasted form could be the lover of her youth. In his eyes she found the long-lost treasure—the love, the youth, the soul of the glorious past.
Slowly the prince raised his arms, and drew her toward him. She sank down, and laid her head by his cold cheek. Her hot breath wafted him a new life-current, and seemed to call back his soul from the spirit-world.
For a long time no word was spoken. How could they speak, in this first consecrated moment? They felt so much, that language failed. They lay heart to heart, and only God understood their hollow sighs, their unspoken prayers, their suppressed tears. Only God was with them! God sent through the open doors the fresh fragrance of the flowers; He sent the winds, His messengers, through the tall trees, and their wild, melancholy voices were like a solemn organ, accompanying love's last hymn. In the distant thickets the nightingale raised her melancholy notes, for love's last greeting. Thus eternal Nature greets the dying sons of men.
God was with His children. Their thoughts were prayers; their eyes, which at first were fixed upon each other, now turned pleadingly to heaven.
"I shall soon be there!" said Prince Augustus—"soon! I shall live a true life, and this struggle with death will soon be over. For sixteen years I have been slowly dying, day by day, hour by hour. Laura, it has been sixteen years, has it not?"
She bowed silently.
"No," said he, gazing earnestly upon her; "it was but yesterday. I know now that it was but yesterday. You are just the same—unchanged, my Laura. This is the same angel-face which I have carried in my heart. Nothing is changed, and I thank God for it. It would have been a great grief to look upon you and find a strange face by my side. This is my Laura, my own Laura, who left me sixteen years ago. And now, look at me steadily; see what life has made of me; see how it has mastered me—tortured me to death with a thousand wounds! I call no man my murderer, but I die of these wounds. Oh, Laura! why did you forsake me? Why did you not leave this miserable, hypocritical, weary world of civilization, and follow me to the New World, where the happiness of a true life awaited us?"
"I dared not," said she; "God demanded this offering of me, and because I loved you boundlessly I was strong to submit. God also knows what it cost me, and how these many years I have struggled with my heart, and tried to learn to forget."
"Struggle no longer, Laura, I am dying; when I am dead you dare not forget me."
She embraced him with soft tenderness.
"No, no," whispered she, "God is merciful! He will not rob me of the only consolation of my joyless, solitary life. I had only this. To think he lives, he breathes the same air, he looks up into the same heavens—the same quiet stars greet him and me. And a day will come in which millions of men will shout and call him their king; and when I look upon his handsome face, and see him in the midst of his people, surrounded by pomp and splendor, I dare say to myself, That is my work. I loved him more than I loved myself, therefore he wears a crown—I had the courage not only to die for him, but to live without him, and therefore is he a king. Oh, my beloved, say not that you are dying!"
"If you love me truly, Laura, you will not wish me to live. Indeed I have long been dying. For sixteen years I have felt the death-worm in my heart—it gnaws and gnaws. I have tried to crush it—I wished to live, because I had promised you to bear my burden. I wished to prove myself a man. I gave the love which you laid at my feet, bathed in our tears and our blood, to my fatherland. I was told that I must marry, to promote the interest of my country, and I did so. I laid a mask over my face, and a mask over my heart. I wished to play my part in the drama of life to the end; I wished to honor my royal birth to which fate had condemned me. But it appears I was a bad actor. I was cast out from my service, my gay uniform and royal star torn from my breast. I, a prince, was sent home a humiliated, degraded, ragged beggar. I crept with my misery and my shame into this corner, and no one followed me. No one showed a spark of love for the poor, spurned cast-away. Love would have enabled me to overcome all, to defy the world, and to oppose its slanders boldly. I was left alone to bear my shame and my despair—wholly alone. I have a wife, I have children, and I am alone; they live far away from me, and at the moment of my death they will smile and be happy. I am the heir of a throne, but a poor beggar; I asked only of fate a little love, but I asked in vain. Fate had no pity—only when I am dead will I be a prince again; then they will heap honors upon my dead body. Oh, Laura! how it burns in my heart—how terrible is this hell-fire of shame! It eats up the marrow of my bones and devours my brain. Oh, my head, my head! how terrible is this pain!"
With a loud sob he sank back on the pillow; his eyes closed, great drops of sweat stood on his brow, and the breath seemed struggling in his breast.
Laura bowed over him, she wiped away the death-sweat with her hair, and hot tears fell on the poor wan face. These tears aroused him—he opened his eyes.
"I have got something to say," whispered he; "I feel that I shall soon be well. When the world says of me, 'He is dead,' I shall have just awaked from death. There above begins the true life; what is here so called is only a pitiful prologue. We live here only that we may learn to wish for death. Oh, my Laura! I shall soon live, love, and be happy."
"Oh, take me with you, my beloved," cried Laura, kneeling before him, dissolved in tears. "Leave me not alone—it is so sad, so solitary in this cold world! Take me with you, my beloved!"
He heard her not! Death had already touched him with the point of his dark wings, and spread his mantle over him. His spirit struggled with the exhausted body and panted to escape. He no longer heard when Laura called, but he still lived: his eyes were wide open and he spoke again. But they were single, disconnected words, which belonged to the dreamland and the forms of the invisible world which his almost disembodied spirit now looked upon.
Once he said, in a loud voice, and this time he looked with full consciousness upon Laura, "I close my life—a life of sorrow. Winterfeldt has shortened my days, but I die content in knowing that so bad, so dangerous a man is no longer in the army." [Footnote: The prince's own words. He died the 12th of June, 1758, at thirty-six years of age. As his adjutant, Von Hagen, brought the news of his death to the king, Frederick asked, "Of what disease did my brother die?"
"Grief and shame shortened his life," said the officer. Frederick turned his back on him without a reply, and Von Hagen was never promoted.
The king erected a monument to Winterfeldt, Ziethen, and Schwerin, but he left it to his brother Henry to erect one to the Prince of Prussia. This was done in Reinenz, where a lofty pyramid was built in honor of the heroes of the Seven Years' War. The names of all the generals, and all the battles they had gained were engraven upon it, and it was crowned by a bust of Augustus William, the great-grandfather of the present King of Prussia.
The king erected a statue to Winterfeldt, and forgot his brother, and now Prince Henry forgot to place Winterfeldt's name among the heroes of the war. When the monument was completed, the prince made a speech, which was full of enthusiastic praise of his beloved brother, so early numbered with the dead. Prince Henry betrayed by insinuation the strifes and difficulties which always reigned between the king and himself; he did not allude to the king during his speech, and did not class him among the heroes of the Seven Years' War.
In speaking of the necessity of a monument in memory of his best beloved brother, Augustus William, he alluded to the statue of Winterfeldt, and added: "L'abus des richesses et du pouvoir eleve des statues de marbre et de bronze a ceux qui n'etaient pas dignes de passer a la posterite sous l'embleme de l'honneur."—Rouille's "Vie du Prince Henry."
Recently a signal honor has been shown to Prince Augustus William, his statue has the principal place on the monument erected in honor of Frederick the Great in Berlin.—Rouille.]
His mind wandered, and he thought he was on the battle-field, and called out, loudly:
"Forward! forward to the death!"
Then all was still but the song of the birds and the sighing winds.
Laura knelt and prayed. When she turned her glance from the cloudless heavens upon her beloved, his countenance was changed. There was a glory about it, and his great, wide-opened eyes flashed with inspiration; he raised his dying head and greeted the trees and flowers with his last glance.
"How beautiful is the world when one is about to die," said he, with a sweet smile. "Farewell, world! Farewell, Laura! Come, take me in your arms—let me die in the arms of love! Hate has its reign in this world, but love goes down with us into the cold grave. Farewell!—farewell!—farewell!"
His head fell upon Laura's shoulder; one last gasp, one last shudder, and the heir of a throne, the future ruler of millions, was nothing but a corpse.
The trees whispered gayly—no cloud shadowed the blue heavens; the birds sang, the flowers bloomed, and yet in that eventful moment a prince was born, a pardoned soul was wafted to the skies.
Love pressed the last kiss upon the poor, wan lips; love closed the weary eyes; love wept over him; love prayed for his soul.
"Hate has her reign in this poor world, love goes down with us into the dark tomb."
CHAPTER I. THE KING AND HIS OLD AND NEW ENEMIES.
Three years, three long, terrible years had passed since the beginning of this fearful war; since King Frederick of Prussia had stood alone, without any ally but distant England, opposed by all Europe.
These three years had somewhat undeceived the proud and self-confident enemies of Frederick. The pope still called him the Marquis of Brandenburg, and the German emperor declared that, notwithstanding the adverse circumstances threatening him on every side, the King of Prussia was still a brave and undaunted adversary. His enemies, alter having for a long time declared that they would extinguish him and reduce him once more to the rank of the little Prince-Elector of Brandenburg, now began to fear him. From every battle, from every effort, from every defeat, King Frederick rose up with a clear brow and flashing eye, and unshaken courage. Even the lost battles did not cast a shadow upon the lustre of his victories. In both the one and the other he had shown himself a hero, greater even after the battles in his composure and decision, in his unconquerable energy, in the circumspection and presence of mind by which he grasped at a glance all the surroundings, and converted the most threatening into favorable circumstances. After a great victory his enemies might indeed say they had conquered the King of Prussia, but never that they had subdued him. He stood ever undaunted, ever ready for the contest, prepared to attack them when they least expected it; to take advantage of every weak point, and to profit by every incautious movement. The fallen ranks of his brave soldiers appeared to be dragons' teeth, which produced armed warriors.
In the camps of the allied Austrians, Saxons, and Russians hunger and sickness prevailed. In Vienna, Petersburg, and Dresden, the costs and burden of the war were felt to be almost insupportable. The Prussian army was healthy, their magazines well stocked, and, thanks to the English subsidy, the treasury seemed inexhaustible. Three years, as we have said, of never-ceasing struggle had gone by. The heroic brow of the great Frederick had been wreathed with new laurels. The battles of Losovitz, of Rossbach, of Leuthen, and of Zorndorf were such dazzling victories that they were not even obscured by the defeats of Collin and Hochkirch. The allies made their shouts of victory resound throughout all Europe, and used every means to produce the impression upon the armies and the people that these victories were decisive.
Another fearful enemy, armed with words of Holy Writ, was now added to the list of those who had attacked him with the sword. This new adversary was Pope Clement XIII. He mounted the apostolic throne in May, 1758, and immediately declared himself the irreconcilable foe of the little Marquis of Brandenburg, who had dared to hold up throughout Prussia all superstition and bigotry to mockery and derision; who had illuminated the holy gloom and obscurity of the church with the clear light of reason and truth; who misused the priests and religious orders, and welcomed and assisted in Prussia all those whom the holy mother Catholic Church banished for heresies and unbelief.
Benedict, the predecessor of the present pope, was also known to have been the enemy of Frederick, but he was wise enough to be silent and not draw down upon the cloisters, and colleges, and Catholics of Prussia the rage of the king.
But Clement, in his fanatical zeal, was not satisfied to pursue this course. He was resolved to do battle against this heretical king. He fulminated the anathemas of the church and bitter imprecations against him, and showered down words of blessing and salvation upon all those who declared themselves his foes. Because of this fanatical hatred, Austria received a new honor, a new title from the hands of the pope. As a reward for her enmity to this atheistical marquis, and the great service which she had rendered in this war, the pope bestowed the title of apostolic majesty upon the empress and her successors. Not only the royal house of Austria, but the generals and the whole army of pious and believing Christians, should know and feel that the blessing of the pope rested upon their arms, protecting them from adversity and defeat. The glorious victory of Hochkirch must be solemnly celebrated, and the armies of the allies incited to more daring deeds of arms.
For this reason, Pope Clement sent to Field-Marshal Daun, who had commanded at the battle of Hochkirch, a consecrated hat and sword, thus changing this political into a religious war. It was no longer a question of earthly possessions, but a holy contest against an heretical enemy of mother church. Up to this time, these consecrated gifts had been only bestowed upon generals who had already subdued unbelievers or subjugated barbarians. [Footnote: OEuvres Posthumes, vol. iii.]
But King Frederick of Prussia laughed at these attacks of God's vicegerent. To his enemies, armed with the sword, he opposed his own glittering blade; to his popish enemy, armed with the tongue and the pen, he opposed the same weapons. He met the first in the open field, the last in winter quarters, through those biting, mocking, keen Fliegenden Blattern, which at that time made all Europe roar with laughter, and crushed and brought to nothing the great deeds of the pope by the curse of ridicule.
The consecrated hat and sword of Field-Marshal Daun lost its value through the letter of thanks from Daun to the pope, which the king intercepted, and which, even in Austria, was laughed at and made sport of.
The congratulatory letter of the Princess Soubise to Daun was also made public, and produced general merriment.
When the pope called Frederick the "heretical Marchese di Brandenburgo," the king returned the compliment by calling him the "Grand Lama," and delighted himself over the assumed infallibility of the vicegerent of the Most High.
But the king not only scourged the pope with his satirical pen—the modest and prudish Empress Maria Theresa was also the victim of his wit. He wrote a letter, supposed to be from the Marquise de Pompadour to the Queen of Hungary, in which the inexplicable friendship between the virtuous empress and the luxurious mistress of Louis was mischievously portrayed. This letter of Frederick's was spread abroad in every direction, and people were not only naive enough to read it, but to believe it genuine. The Austrian court saw itself forced to the public declaration that all these letters were false; that Field-Marshal Daun had not received a consecrated wig, but a hat; and that the empress had never received a letter of this character from the Marquise de Pompadour. [Footnote: In this letter the marquise complained bitterly that the empress had made it impossible for her to hasten to Vienna and offer her the homage, the lore, the friendship she cherished for her in her heart. The empress had established a court of virtue and modesty in Vienna, and this tribunal could hardly receive the Pompadour graciously. The marquise, therefore, entreated the empress to execute judgment against this fearful tribunal of virtue, and to bow to the yoke of the omnipotent goddess Venus. All these letters can be seen in the "Supplement aux OEuvres Posthumes."] These Fliegende Blattern, as we have said, were the weapons with which King Frederick fought against his enemies when the rough, inclement winter made it impossible for him to meet them in the open field. In the winter quarters in 1758 most of those letters appeared; and no one but the Marquis d'Argens, the most faithful friend of Frederick, guessed who was the author of these hated and feared satires.
The enemies of the king also made use of this winter rest to make every possible aggression; they had their acquaintances and spies throughout Germany; under various pretences and disguises, they were scattered abroad—even in the highest court circles of Berlin they were zealously at work. By flattery, and bribery, and glittering promises, they made friends and adherents, and in the capital of Prussia they found ready supporters and informers. They were not satisfied with this—they were haughty and bold enough to seek for allies among the Prussians, and hoped to obtain entrance into the walls of the cities, and possession of the fortresses by treachery.
The Austrian and Russian prisoners confined in the fortress of Kustrin conspired to give it up to the enemy. The number of Russian prisoners sent to the fortress of Kustrin after the battle of Zorndorf, was twice as numerous as the garrison, and if they could succeed in getting possession of the hundred cannon captured at Zorndorf, and placed as victorious trophies in the market-place, it would be an easy thing to fall upon and overcome the garrison.
This plan was all arranged, and about to be carried out, but it was discovered the day before its completion. The Prussian commander doubled the guard before the casemates in which three thousand Russian prisoners were confined, and arrested the Russian officers. Their leader, Lieutenant von Yaden of Courland, was accused, condemned by the court-martial, and, by the express command of the king, broken upon the wheel. Even this terrible example bore little fruit. Ever new attempts were being made—ever new conspiracies discovered amongst the prisoners; and whilst the armies of the allies were attacking Prussia outwardly, the prisoners were carrying on a not less dangerous guerilla war—the more to be feared because it was secret—not in the open field and by day, but under the shadow of night and the veil of conspiracy.
Nowhere was this warfare carried on more vigorously than in Berlin. All the French taken at Rossbach, all the Austrians captured at Leuthen, and the Russian officers of high rank taken at Zorndorf, had been sent by the king to Berlin. They had the most enlarged liberty; the whole city was their prison, and only their word of honor bound them not to leave the walls of Berlin. Besides this, all were zealous to alleviate the sorrows of the "poor captives," and by fetes and genial amusements to make them forget their captivity. The doors of all the first houses were opened to the distinguished strangers—everywhere they were welcome guests, and there was no assembly at the palace to which they were not invited.
Even in these fearful times, balls and fetes were given at the court. Anxious and sad faces were hidden under gay masks, and the loud sound of music and dancing drowned the heavy sighs of the desponding. While the Austrians, Russians, and Prussians strove with each other on the bloody battle-field, the Berlin ladies danced the graceful Parisienne dances with the noble prisoners. This was now the mode.
Truly there were many aching hearts in this gay and merry city, but they hid their grief and tears in their quiet, lonely chambers, and their clouded brows cast no shadow upon the laughing, rosy faces of the beautiful women whose brothers, husbands, and lovers, were far away on the bloody battle-field If not exactly willing to accept these strangers as substitutes, they were at least glad to seek distraction in their society. After all, it is impossible to be always mourning, always complaining, always leading a cloistered life. In the beginning, the oath of constancy and remembrance, which all had sworn at parting, had been religiously preserved, and Berlin had the physiognomy of a lovely, interesting, but dejected widow, who knew and wished to know nothing of the joys of life. But suddenly Nature had asserted her own inexorable laws, which teach forgetfulness and inspire hope. The bitterest ears were dried—the heaviest sighs suppressed; people had learned to reconcile themselves to life, and to snatch eagerly at every ray of sunshine which could illumine the cold, hopeless desert, which surrounded them.
They had seen that it was quite possible to live comfortably, even while wild war was blustering and raging without—that weak, frail human nature, refused to be ever strained, ever excited, in the expectation of great events. In the course of these three fearful years, even the saddest had learned again to laugh, jest, and be gay, in spite of death and defeat. They loved their fatherland—they shouted loudly and joyfully over the great victories of their king—they grieved sincerely over his defeats; but they could not carry their animosities so far as to be cold and strange to the captive officers who were compelled by the chances of war to remain in Berlin.
They had so long striven not to seek to revenge themselves upon these powerless captives, that they had at last truly forgotten they were enemies; and these handsome, entertaining, captivating, gallant gentlemen were no longer looked upon even as prisoners, but as strangers and travellers, and therefore they should receive the honors of the city. [Footnote: Sulzer writes: "The prisoners of war are treated here as if they were distinguished travellers and visitors."]
The king commanded that these officers should receive all attention. It was also the imperative will of the king that court balls should be given; he wished to prove to the world that his family were neither sad nor dispirited, but gay, bold, and hopeful.
CHAPTER II. THE THREE OFFICERS.
It was the spring of 1759. Winter quarters were broken up, and it was said the king had left Breslau and advanced boldly to meet the enemy. The Berlin journals contained accounts of combats and skirmishes which had taken place here and there between the Prussians and the allies, and in which, it appeared, the Prussians had always been unfortunate.
Three captive officers sat in an elegant room of a house near the castle, and conversed upon the news of the day, and stared at the morning journals which lay before them on the table.
"I beg you," said one of them in French—"I beg you will have the goodness to translate this sentence for me. I think it has relation to Prince Henry, but I find it impossible to decipher this barbarous dialect." He handed the journal to his neighbor, and pointed with his finger to the paragraph.
"Yes, there is something about Prince Henry," said the other, with a peculiar accent which betrayed the Russian; "and something, Monsieur Belleville, which will greatly interest you."
"Oh, I beseech you to read it to us," said the Frenchman, somewhat impatiently; then, turning graciously to the third gentleman who sat silent and indifferent near him, he added: "We must first ascertain, however, if our kind host, Monsieur le Comte di Ranuzi, consents to the reading."
"I gladly take part," said the Italian count, "in any thing that is interesting; above all, in every thing which has no relation to this wearisome and stupid Berlin."
"Vraiment! you are right." sighed the Frenchman. "It is a dreary and ceremonious region. They are so inexpressibly prudish and virtuous—so ruled with old-fashioned scruples—led captive by such little prejudices that I should be greatly amused at it, if I did not suffer daily from the dead monotony it brings. What would the enchanting mistress of France—what would the Marquise de Pompadour say, if she could see me, the gay, witty, merry Belleville, conversing with such an aspect of pious gravity with this poor Queen of Prussia, who makes a face if one alludes to La Pucelle d'Orleans, and wishes to make it appear that she has not read Crebillon!"
"Tell me, now, Giurgenow, how is it with your court of Petersburg? Is it formal, as ceremonious as here in Prussia?"
Giurgenow laughed aloud. "Our Empress Elizabeth is an angel of beauty and goodness—mild and magnanimous to all-sacrificing herself constantly to the good of others. Last year she gave a ball to her body-guard. She danced with every one of the soldiers, and sipped from every glass; and when the soldiers, carried away by her grace and favor, dared to indulge in somewhat free jests, the good empress laughed merrily, and forgave them. On that auspicious day she first turned her attention to the happy Bestuchef. He was then a poor subordinate officer—now he is a prince and one of the richest men in Russia."
"It appears that your Russia has some resemblance to my beautiful France," said Belleville, gayly. "But how is it with you, Count Ranuzi? Is the Austrian court like the court of France, or like this wearisome Prussia?"
"The Austrian court stands alone—resembles no other," said the Italian, proudly. "At the Austrian court we have a tribunal of justice to decide all charges against modesty and virtue The Empress Maria Theresa is its president."
"Diable!" cried the Frenchman, "what earthly chance would the Russian empress and my lovely, enchanting marquise have, if summoned before this tribunal by their most august ally the Empress Maria Theresa? But you forget, Giurgenow, that you have promised to read us something from the journal about Prince Henry."
"It is nothing of importance," said the Russian, apathetically; "the prince has entirely recovered from his wounds, and has been solacing himself in his winter camp at Dresden with the representations upon the French stage. He has taken part as actor, and has played the role of Voltaire's Enfant Prodigue. It is further written, that he has now left the comic stage and commenced the graver game of arms."
"He might accidentally change these roles," said Belleville, gayly, "and play the Enfant Prodigue when he should play the hero. In which would he be the greater, do you know, Ranuzi?"
The Italian shrugged his shoulders. "You must ask his wife."
"Or Baron Kalkreuth, who has lingered here for seven months because of his wounds," said Giurgenow, with a loud laugh. "Besides, Prince Henry is averse to this war, all his sympathies are on our side. If the fate of war should cost the King of Prussia his life, we would soon have peace and leave this detestable Berlin—this dead, sandy desert, where we are now languishing as prisoners."
"The god of war is not always complaisant," said the Frenchman, grimly. "He does not always strike those whom we would gladly see fall; the balls often go wide of the mark."
"Truly a dagger is more reliable," said Ranuzi, coolly.
The Russian cast a quick, lowering side glance upon him.
"Not always sure," said he. "It is said that men armed with daggers have twice found their way into the Prussian camp, and been caught in the king's tent. Their daggers have been as little fatal to the king as the cannon-balls."
"Those who bore the daggers were Dutchmen," said Ranuzi, apathetically; "they do not understand this sort of work. One must learn to handle the dagger in my fatherland."