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Historical Miniatures
by August Strindberg
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THE WHITE MOUNTAIN

While the peace negotiations were being carried on in Osnabrck and Mnster, the Thirty Years' War still flamed up here and there, more perhaps to keep the troops in practice, to provide support for the soldiers, and to have booty at command, than to defend any faith or the adherents of it.

All talk of religion had ceased, and the powers now played with their cards exposed. Protestant Saxony, the first State to support Lutheranism, worked in conjunction with Catholic Austria, and Catholic France with Protestant Sweden. In the battle of Wolfenbttel, 1641, French Catholics fought against German Catholics, the latter of whom, however, later on carried the body of Johan Baner in their ranks.

The Swedish Generals thought little of peace, but when the negotiations dragged on to the seventh year, they thought the time had come to have some regard to it. "He who takes something, has something," Wrangel wrote to his son.

Hans Christoph von Knigsmarck, who continued Johan Baner's traditions, had lately been with him at Zusmarshausen, and was now sent eastward in the direction of Bohemia. Since, besides cavalry, he had only five hundred foot-soldiers, he did not know what to do, but wandered about at random, and looked for booty. But nothing was to be found, for Johan Baner had already laid the district waste.

"Then they marched farther," like Xenophon, and found the woods which bordered the highways' cut down; the fields were covered with weeds, and in the trees hung corpses; the churches had been burnt, but watch was kept in the churchyards in order that the corpses should not be eaten.

One night Knigsmarck himself was leading a small detachment in search of provisions. They rode into a wood where they saw a light burning. But it was only a red glow as if from a charcoal pile or a smithy. They dismounted from their horses, and stole on foot to the place. When they reached it, they heard voices singing a "Miserere" in low tones, and they saw men, women, and children sitting round an oven, the last remains of a village.

Knigsmark went forward alone, and, hidden behind a young fir-tree, he beheld a spectacle.... He had seen such sights before, but not under such circumstances. In an iron scoop on the oven some game was being roasted; it might have been an enormous hare, but was not. Like a hare, it was very spindle-shanked and lean over back and breast; only the hinder-parts seemed well developed; the head was placed, between the two fore-paws.... No! they were not fore-paws, but two five-fingered hands, and round the neck a charred rope was knotted. It was a man who had been hung, and whom they had cut down in order to eat him.

The General was not squeamish by nature, and had in his life passed through many experiences, but this went beyond all bounds. He was at first angry, and wished to interrupt the cannibals' meal, but when he saw the little children sitting on their mothers' knees with tufts of grass in their mouths, he was seized with compassion. The cannibals themselves looked like corpses or madmen, and the eyes and expectations of all were fastened on the oven. At the same time they sang "Lord, have mercy," and prayed for pardon for the grievous sin which they were obliged to commit. "What does it really matter to me?" said the General to himself; "I only wish I had not seen it." He returned to his men, and they marched on.

The wood became thinner, and they came to an open place where was something resembling a heap of stones, out of which there arose a single pillar. In the half-twilight which reigned they could not see distinctly, but on the pillar something seemed to be moving. The "something" resembled a man, but had only one arm.

"It is not a man, for he would have two arms," said one of the soldiers.

"It would be strange, if a man could not have an arm missing."

"Strange indeed! Perhaps it is a pillar-saint."

"Give him a charge of powder, and we shall soon see."

At the rattle of arms which was now heard there, rose a howl so terrible and multitudinous, that no one thought it came from the pillar-saint. At the same time the apparent heap of stones moved and became a living mass.

"They are wolves! Aim! Fire!"

A volley was fired, and the wolves fled. Knigsmarck rode through the smoke, and now saw a one-armed Imperialist standing on the chimney, which was all that was left of a burnt cottage. "Come down, and let us look at you," he said.

The maimed man clambered down with his single arm, showing incredible agility. "We ought to have him to scale the wall with a storming-party," said the General to himself.

Then the examination commenced.

"Are you alone?"

"Alone now—thanks to your grace, for the wolves have been round me for six hours."

"What is your name? Where do you come from? Whither do you wish to go?"

"My name is Odowalsky; I come from Vienna; and I shall go to hell, if I don't get help."

"Will you go with us?"

"Yes, as sure as I live! With anybody, if only I can live. I have lost my arm; I was given a house; they burnt it, and threw me out on the highway—with wife and child, of course!"

"Listen; do you know the way to Prague?"

"I can find the way to Prague, to the Hradschin and the Imperial treasure-house, Wallenstein's palace, the royal castle, Wallenstein's dancing-hall, and the Loretto Convent. There there is multum plus Plurimum."

"What is your rank in the army?"

"First Lieutenant."

"That is something different. Come with me, and you shall have a horse, Mr. First Lieutenant, and then let us see what you are good for."

Odowalsky received a horse, and the General bade him ride beside him. He talked confidentially with him the whole night till they again rejoined the main body of the army.

* * * * *

Some days later Knigsmarck stood with his little troop on the White Mountain left of Prague—"Golden Prague," as it was called. It was late in the evening of the fifteenth of June. He had Odowalsky at his side, and seemed to be particularly good friends with him. But the troop knew nothing of the General's designs, and, as they saw that he went towards Prague, his officers were astounded, for the town was well fortified, and defended by a strong body of armed citizens.

"One can at any rate look at the show," Knigsmarck answered to all objections; "that costs nothing."

They halted on the White Mountain, without, however, pitching a camp. They saw nothing of the beautiful town, for it was dark, but they heard the church and convent bells.

"This, then, is the White Mountain, where the war broke out just thirty years ago," said Knigsmarck to Odowalsky.

"Yes," answered the Austrian. "It was then the Bohemian revolt broke out, your King Frederick V of the Palatinate was slain here, and there was great rejoicing at his death."

"If you forget who you are, forget not who I am."

"We will not quarrel about something that happened so long ago! But, as a matter of fact, the revolt was crushed, and the Protestants had to withdraw. What did they get by their trouble—the poor Bohemians? Hussites, Taborites, Utraquists sacrificed their lives, but Bohemia is still Catholic! It was all folly!"

"Do you belong to the Roman Church, First Lieutenant?"

"I don't belong to any Church at all; I belong to the army. And now we will take Prague with a coup de main."

So it fell out. At midnight the foot-soldiers clambered over the wall, threw the sentinels into the moat, cut down the guards at the gates, and took that side of the town.

For three days the part of the city which lay on the left bank of the Moldau was plundered, and Knigsmarck is said to have sent five waggons laden with gold and silver to the north-west through Germany, as his own share of the spoil. Odowalsky received six thousand thalers for his trouble, and later on was raised to the Swedish House of Peers with the title of "Von Streitberg."

But the right bank had not been captured. It was defended by ten thousand citizens, assisted by students, monks, and Jews. From ancient times there had been a large Jewish colony in Prague; the Jews were said to have escaped thither direct from Jerusalem during the last German crusade, and for that reason the island in the Moldau is still called Jerusalem. On this occasion the Jews so distinguished themselves that they received as a token of honour from the Emperor Ferdinand III a great flag, which can be still seen in their synagogue. Knigsmarck could not take the Old Town, but had to send for help to Wittenberg. The latter actually plundered Tabor and Budweis, but Prague, which had been plundered, did not attract him. Then the Count Palatine Karl Gustav had to come, and formally besieged the eastern portion of the town.

Knigsmarck dwelt in the Castle, where he could see the old hall of the States-General, from the window of which Count Thurn had thrown the Imperial governors Martiniz and Slavata; the Protestants say that they fell on a dungheap, but the Catholics maintain that it was an elder-bush.

Meanwhile Count Karl Gustav, who was a cousin of Frederick V, had as little success before Prague as the former. He became ill, and was sure that he had been poisoned. But he recovered, and was about to be reinforced by Wrangel, when news arrived that the Peace of Westphalia had been concluded.

With that the Thirty Years' War was at an end. Sweden received two million thalers and some places of importance; these were enfeoffed to Germany, and in exchange Sweden had three votes in the German Reichstag.

But Germany's population was only a quarter of what it had been, and, while it had formerly been one State under the Emperor, it was now split up into three hundred little States. However, the liberty of faith affirmed in the Confession of Augsburg, 1555, was recovered, and extended to the reformed districts. It was dearly bought, but with it North Germany had also obtained freedom from Rome, and that could not be too dearly purchased.

Out of chaos comes creation and new creation. From the Germanic chaos emerged North Germany, the seed of which was Brandenberg, later on developing into Prussia, and finally the German Empire, which received the imperial crown at Versailles, but not from the hands of Rome.



THE GREAT CZAR

On the southern shore of the Gulf of Finland lay the little village Strelna, halfway between Petersburg and the half-completed Peterhof. At the end of the village, on the edge of the Strelka stream, stood a simple country-house under oaks and pines. It was painted green and red, and the window-shutters were still fastened, for it was only four o'clock on a summer morning.

The Gulf of Finland lay smooth under the rays of the rising sun. A Dutch trading vessel, which had wished to enter the harbour and reach the Admiralty House, now furled its sails and dropped anchor. It carried a flag at its main-top which hung down idly.

Near the red and green country-house stood an ancient lime-tree with a split trunk; in the cleft a wooden platform with a railing had been fitted, and a flight of steps led up to this arbour. In this early morning hour there sat a man in the tree at an unpainted, unsteady table, writing letters. The table was covered with papers, but there was still room for a clock without a glass, a compass, a case of drawing instruments, and a large bell of bronze.

The man sat in his shirt-sleeves; he wore darned stockings which were turned down, and large shoes; his head seemed incredibly large, but was not so in reality; his neck was like that of an ox, and his body that of a giant; the hand which was now writing was coarse, and stained with tar; he wrote carelessly, with lines somewhat slanting, but quickly. The letters were short and to the point, with no introductions and no conclusions, merely signed "Pe ter," the name divided in two, as though it had been split by the heavy hand which wrote it.

There were probably about a million men bearing that name in Russia; but this Peter was the only one of importance, and everyone recognised the signature.

The lime-tree was alive with bees, the little Strelka brook bubbled and fretted like a tea-kettle, and the sun rose gloriously; its rays fell between the leaves of the lime-tree, and threw patches of light on the strange face of one of the strangest and most incomprehensible men who have ever lived.

Just now this handsome head, with its short hair, looked like that of a wild boar; and when the writer licked his goose-quill like a school-boy, he showed teeth and a tongue like those of a memorial lion. Sometimes his features were convulsed with pain, as though he were being tortured or crucified. But then he took a new sheet, and began a new letter; his pen ran on; his mouth smiled till his eyes disappeared, and the terrible man looked roguish. Still another sheet, and a little note which was certainly directed to a lady; now the face changed to that of a satyr, melted so to speak, into harmonious lines, and finally exploded in a loud laugh which was simply cynical.

His morning correspondence was now ended. The Czar had written fifty letters. He left them unsealed. Kathia, his wife, would collect and fasten them.

The giant stretched himself, rose with difficulty, and cast a glance over the bay. With his spy-glass he saw Petersburg and his fleet, the Fort of Kronstadt, which had been commenced, and finally discovered the trading-vessel. "How did that come in without saluting?" he thought, "and dare to anchor immediately before my house!"

He rang, and a valet-de-chambre came at once, running from the row of tents which stood concealed behind the pines-trees, and where both soldiers and servants lodged.

"Take five men in a boat," he ordered, "and hail that brig! Can you see what country it belongs to?"

"It is Dutch, your Majesty!"

"Dutch! Bring the captain here, dead or alive. At once! On the spot! But first my tea!"

"The household is asleep, most gracious lord."

"Then wake it up, you ass! Knock at the shutters! Break the door in! Asleep in broad daylight!"

He rang again. A second servant appeared. "Tea! and brandy—plenty of brandy!"

The servants ran, the household was aroused, and the Czar occupied the interval by making notes on slate tablets. When he became impatient, he got down, and knocked at all the shutters with his stick. Then a voice was heard from within: "Wait a moment."

"No! that I won't; I am not born to wait. Hurry! or I will set the house on fire!"

He went into his gardens, cast a glance at his medicinal plants, plucked up some weeds, and watered here and there. He went into the cattle-sheds, and looked at some merino sheep which he himself had introduced. Here he found a trave which had been broken; he took a saw and plane, and mended it. He threw some oats in the manger of his favourite trotting-horse. He drove for the most part, when he did not go on foot; riding seemed to him unworthy of a seaman, and it was as a seaman that the Czar chiefly wished to be regarded. Then he went into the lathe-shop, sat for a while on the turning-bench, and worked. At the window stood a table with a copper-engraver's tools; with the graving-tool he drew some lines which were wanting in the map plate. He was about to proceed to the smithy, when a woman's voice called him under the lime-tree.

On the platform stood his wife the Czarina, in her morning dress. She had massive limbs and large feet; her face was stout and plain, her eyes were not level, but had a steady expression.

"How early you are up this morning, Little Father?" she said.

"Is it early? It is six at any rate!"

"It is only just five."

"Five? Then it shall be six."

He pushed the hand of the clock an hour forward. His wife smiled a little superciliously, but took care not to irritate him, for she knew how dangerous it was to do so. Then she gave him his tea.

"There is some occupation for you," said Peter, pointing to his letters.

"But how many there are!"

"If there are too many I can get help."

The Czarina, did not answer, but began to look through the letters. The Czar liked that, for then there would be occasion for quarrelling; and he always wished for a quarrel in order to keep his energies active.

"Pardon me, Peter," said his wife, "but is it right that you should apply to the Swedish Government about the Dutch ships?"

"Yes, it is! All that I do is right!"

"I don't understand it. Our Russians fired by mistake at friendly Dutch vessels, and you demand indemnity from the Swedes because the mischance occurred in Swedish waters."

"Yes, according to Roman law, the injury must be made good in the land where it happened...."

"Yes, but...."

"It is all the same anyhow: he who can pay, pays; I cannot, and the Dutch will not, therefore the Swedes must! Do you understand?"

"No."

"The Swedes have incited the Turks against me; they must pay for that."

"May be! But why do you write so harshly to the Dutch Government since you like the Dutch?"

"Why! Because since the Peace of Utrecht, Holland is on the decline. It is all over with Holland; on to the rubbish-heap with it! I hold on to England, since France is also declining."

"Should one abandon one's old friends?..."

"Certainly, when they are no more good. Moreover, there is no friendship in love and in politics. Do you think I like this wretched August of Poland? No! I am sure you don't. But I must go with him through thick and thin, for my country, for Russia. He who cannot sacrifice his little humours and passions for his country is a Don Quixote, like Charles the Twelfth. This fool, with his mad hatred against August and myself, has worked for Sweden's overthrow and Russia's future. But that this Christian dog should incite the Turks against us was a crime against Europe, for Europe needs Russia as a bulwark against Asia. Did not the Mongol sit for two hundred years on our frontier and threaten us? And when our ancestors had at last driven him away, there comes a fellow like this and brings the heathen from Constantinople upon us. The Mongols were once in Silesia, and would have destroyed Western Europe if we Russians had not saved it. Charles XII is dead, but I curse his memory, and I curse everyone who seeks to hinder me in my laudable endeavour to raise Russia from a Western Asiatic power to an Eastern European one. I shall beat everyone down, whoever he may be, who interferes with my work, even though it were my own son."

There was silence for some moments. The last words referred to the Delicate topic of Alexis, Peter's son by his first marriage, who was now a prisoner awaiting his death-sentence in the Peter-Paul Fortress. He was accused of having endeavoured to hinder his father's work in the civilisation of Russia, and was suspected of having taken part in plots of rebellion. The Czar's first divorced wife Eudoxia was confined in the convent of Suzdal.

Katharina naturally did not love Alexis, since he stood in the way of her children, and she would have been glad of his death, but did not wish to incur the guilt of it. Since Peter also did not wish to take the responsibility for it, he had appointed a court of a hundred and twenty-seven persons to try his son.

The topic therefore was an unwelcome one, and, with his extraordinary facility for quick changes of thought and feeling, Peter broke the silence with the prosaic question, "Where is the brandy?"

"You will get no brandy so early, my boy."

"Kathrina!" said Peter in a peculiar tone, while his face began to twitch.

"Be quiet, Lion!" answered his wife, and stroked his black mane, which had begun to bristle. She took a bottle and a glass out of a basket.

The Lion cheered up, swallowed the strong drink, smiled, and stroked his spouse's expansive bust.

"Will you see the children?" asked Katherine, in order to bring him into a milder mood.

"No, not to-day! Yesterday I beat them, and they would think I was running after them. Keep them at a distance. Keep them under, or they will get the better of you!"

Katherine had taken the last letter, as though absent-mindedly, and began to read it. Then she coloured, and tore it in two. "You must not write to actresses. That is too great an honour for them, and can only disgrace us."

The Czar smiled, and was not angry. He had not intended to send the letter, but only scribbled it in order to excite his wife, perhaps also to show off.

There was a sound of approaching footsteps underneath.

"See! there is my friend, the scoundrel!"

"Hush!" said Katherine, "Menshikoff is your friend."

"A fine friend! Already once I have condemned him to death as a thief and deceiver; but he lives still, thanks to your friendship."

"Hush!"

Menshikoff (he was a great soldier, an able statesman, an indispensable favourite, enormously rich) came hurrying up the wooden stairs. It was in his house that the Czar had found his Katherine. He was handsome, looked like a Frenchman, dressed well, and had polished manners. He greeted the Czar ceremoniously, and kissed Katherine's hand.

"Now they are there again," he commenced.

"The Strelitzil? [Footnote: a Russian body-guard first established by Ivan the Terrible.] Have I not rooted them out?"

They grow like the dragon's seed, and now they want to deliver Alexis."

"Have you any more exact information?"

"The conspirators meet this evening at five o'clock."

"Where?"

"Number fourteen the Strandlinje, at an apparently harmless meal."

"Strand—14," wrote the Czar on his tablets. "Any more?"

"To-night at two o'clock they fire the city."

"At two o'clock?" The Czar shook his head, and his face twitched.

"I build up, and they pull down. But now I will extirpate them root and branch. What do they say?"

"They look back to Holy Moscow, and regard the building of Petersburg as a piece of godlessness or malice. The workmen die, like flies, of marsh fever, and they regard your Majesty's building in the midst of a marsh as an act of bravado a la Louis Quatorze, who built Versailles on the site of a swamp."

"Asses! My town is to command the mouth of the river, and to be the Key to the sea, therefore it must be there. The marsh shall be drained off into canals, which will carry boats like those of Amsterdam. But so it is when monkeys judge!"

He rang; a servant appeared; "Put the horses to the cabriolet"; he called down, "and now, goodbye, Katherine; I shall not be home till to-morrow. It will be a hot day. But don't forget the letters. Alexander can help you."

"Will you not dress, little son?" answered Katherine.

"Dress? I have my sabre."

"Put at least your coat on."

The Czar put on his coat, drew the belt which held the sabre some holes tighter, and sprang at one bound from the platform.

"Now it will come off," whispered Menshikoff to Katherine.

"You have not been lying, Alexander?"

"A few lies adorn one's speech. The chief point is gained. To-morrow, Katherine, you can sleep quietly in the nursery with the heirs to the throne."

"Can any misfortune happen to him?"

"No! he never has misfortune."

* * * * *

The Czar ran down to the seashore; he never walked, but always ran. "Life goes fast," he was wont to say, "and there is much to do."

When he reached the gravel bank he found a boat landing, with five men and the Dutch prisoner. The latter sat stolidly by the rudder, and smoked his pipe. But when he saw the Czar, he took off his cap, threw it in the air, and cried, "Hurrah!"

Czar Peter shaded his eyes, and, when he recognised his old teacher and friend, Jaen Scheerborck from Amsterdam, he jumped into the boat over the rowers' shoulders and knees, rushed into Jaen's arms and kissed him, so that his pipe broke and the seaman's great grey beard was full of smoke and nearly took fire. Then the Czar lifted the old man up, and carried him in his arms like a child to the shore.

"At last, you old rascal! I have you here with me! Now you shall see my city and my fleet, which I have built myself, for you have taught me. Bring the cabriolet here, boy! and a grapnel from the boat; we will go, and tack about. Quickly!"

"Dear heart alive!" said the old man, picking the tobacco-ashes out of his beard, "to think that I have seen the Carpenter-Czar before I die; that is...."

"Into the cabriolet, old fellow! Boy, hang the grapnel behind. Where are you to sit? On my knees, of course!"

The cabriolet had only room for one person, and the captain actually had to sit on the Czar's lap. Three horses were yoked to it tandem-fashion, and a fourth ran beside the leader. The whip cracked, and the Czar played being at sea. "A good wind, isn't it? Twelve knots! Furl the sheet! so!"

A toll-gate appeared, and the captain, who knew the Czar's wild tricks but also his skill, began to cry "There is a toll-gate! Stop!"

But the Czar, who had found again his youth with his old friend of former times, and with his indestructible boyishness, liked practical jokes and dangers, whipped on the horses, whistled and shouted, "Let her go! Clear for action! Jump!"

The toll-gate was burst clean open, and the old man laughed so that he swayed on the Czar's knees. And so they drove along the shore. At the town gate the sentinels presented arms and saluted; on the streets people cried "Hurrah!" and when they reached the Admiralty, cannon were fired and the yards manned. But the Czar seriously or in play, as though he were on the sea, shouted "Anchor!"

So saying, he so threw the grapnel towards the wall, that it caught in a torch-holder, which bent but did not break. But the horses, which were still running, were suddenly forced back, and sank on their knees. The first of the three rose no more; it had been fatally injured by bursting in the toll-gate.

Three hours later, when the fleet and docks had been inspected, the Czar and Jaen Scheerborck sat in a seamen's tavern. The cabriolet stood without, and was "anchored" to a thatched roof. Brandy was on the table, and their pipes had filled the room with smoke. The two friends had discussed serious matters. The Czar had paid six visits, one to his staff of generals, from which he returned in a very excited state to the waiting captain. But, with his extraordinary capacity for shaking off what was unpleasant and for changing his moods, he now beamed with hilarity.

"You ask whence I shall get the inhabitants for my new town. I first brought fifty thousand workmen here. That was the nucleus. Then I commanded all officials, priests, and great landowners to build houses—each of them, one—whether they intended to live in it or not. Now I have a hundred thousand. I know they talk and say that I build towns, but don't dwell in them myself. No! I build not for myself, but for the Russians. I hate Moscow, which smells of the Khan of the Tartars, and would prefer to live in the country. That is no one else's affair. Drink, old man! We have the whole day before us till five o'clock. Then I must be sober."

The old man drank cautiously, and did not know exactly how to behave in this grand society, which was at the same time so nautical.

"Now you must tell me some of the stories which the people relate about me. You know lots of them, Jaen."

"I know some certainly, but it is not possible...."

"Then I will tell some," said Peter, "Do you know the story of the pair of compasses and the cheese? No? Well, it runs thus: 'The Czar is so covetous that he always carries a box of drawing instruments in his pocket. With a pair of compasses he measures his cheese, to see whether any of it has been stolen since the last meal!' That is a good story! Here is another! 'The Czar has a Tippler's Club. Once they determined to hold a festival, and the guests were shut up three days and three nights in order to drink. Each guest had a bench behind him, on which to sleep off his intoxication, besides two tubs, one for food and one for ... you understand?'"

"No, that is too absurd!"

"Such are the stories they like to tell in Petersburg. Have you not heard that I also extract teeth? In my palace, they say, there is a sack full of them. And then I am said to perform operations in hospital. Once I drew off so much water from a dropsical woman that she died."

"Do the people believe that?"

"Certainly they do. They are so stupid, you see; but I will cut off their asses' ears and singe their tongues...."

His eyes began to sparkle, and it was plain what direction his thoughts were taking. But however confidential he might be, there always seemed to be secret checks at work, so that, even when intoxicated, he always kept his great secrets though he told unimportant ones.

Just then an adjutant came in, and whispered something to the Czar.

"Exactly at five o'clock," answered the Czar in a loud voice. "Sixty grenadiers, with loaded guns and cutlasses! Adieu! Jaen," continued the Czar, giving a sudden turn to his thoughts, "I will buy your loom, but I will not give more than fifty roubles for it."

"Sixty, sixty."

"You Satan of a Dutchman! You skinflint! If I offer fifty, that is an honour for you! Indeed it is!"

The Czar's anger rose, but it was connected with the adjutant's message, not with the loom. The pot was boiling, and the cover had to fly. "You miserable peddlers of groceries! Always fleecing people! But your time is past! Now come the English! They are another sort!"

Jaen the seaman became gloomy, and that annoyed the Czar still more. He wanted to enjoy Jaen's company, and therefore sought to divert his thoughts. "Landlord," he cried, "bring champagne!"

The landlord came in, fell on his knees, and begged for mercy, for he had not the luxurious drink in his store-cellar. This superfluous word "store-cellar" might sound ironical and provocative, though unintentionally. Still it was welcome as an occasion for using the stick.

"Have you a store-cellar, you rascal? Will you tell me that the keeper of a seaman's alehouse has a cellar of spirits!" And now the stick danced. But as the Dutchman turned away with a gesture of disapproval, the Czar's fury broke loose. From time to time his disposition necessitated such outbreaks. His sabre flew out of its sheath; like a madman, he broke all the bottles on the dresser and cut all the legs off the chairs and tables. Then he made a pile out of the fragments, and prepared to burn the landlord on it.

Then a door opened, and a woman entered with a little child on her arm. When the child saw its father prostrate with his neck stretched out, it began to scream. The Czar paused, quieted down, went to the woman, and accosted her. "Be easy, mother; no mischief is going on; we are only playing at sailors."

Then he turned to the landlord: "Send the account to Prince Menshikoff; he will pay. But if you scratch me.... Well, I forgive you this time.... Now let us go, Jaen. Up with the anchor, and stand by the sheet!"

Then they drove into the town. The Czar ran up into various houses and came down again, until it was noon. They then halted before Menshikoff's palace. "Is dinner ready?" asked the Czar from the cabriolet.

"Yes, your Majesty," answered a lackey.

"Serve up for two! Is the Prince at home?"

"No, your Majesty."

"Never mind. Serve up for two."

It was the Czar's habit thus to make himself a guest in his friends' houses, whether they were at home or not, and he is said once to have thus quartered himself upon somebody, with two hundred of his courtiers.

After a splendid dinner, the Czar went into an ante-room and laid down to sleep. The captain had already gone to sleep at the table. But the Czar laid a watch beside him; he could wake whenever he wished.

When he awoke, he went into the dining-room, and found Jaen Scheerborck sleeping at the table.

"Bring him out!" commanded the Czar.

"Is he not to accompany your Majesty any more?" the chamberlain, who was a favourite, ventured to ask.

"No! I have had enough of him; one should not meet people more than once in a lifetime. Carry him to the pump—that will sober him, and then take him to his ship"—and with a contemptuous glance he added, "You old beast!"

Then he felt whether his sabre was secure, and went out.

After his sleep, Peter was again the Emperor—lofty, upright, dignified. He went along the promenade, serious and sedate, as though to a battle. When he had found Number 14, he entered at once, sure of finding his fifty men there. On the right hand ground-floor towards the courtyard, all the windows stood open. There he saw the conspirators sitting at a long table and drinking wine. He stepped into the room, saw many of his friends there, and felt a stab at his heart.

"Good-day, comrades!" was his cheery greeting.

The whole company rose like one man. They exchanged looks and put on faces for the occasion.

"Let us drink a glass together, friends!" Peter threw himself on a chair; then he looked at a clock in the room, and saw it was only half-past four. He had made a mistake of half an hour. Was it his own error, or was Menshikoff's clock wrong?

"Half an hour!" he thought to himself, but in the next second he had emptied a huge glass, and began to sing a very popular soldiers' song, keeping time by knocking the glass against the table.

The effect of the song was magical. They had sung it as victors at Pultowa; they had marched to the accompaniment of its strains; it carried their memories to better, happier times, and they all joined in. Peter's strong personality, the winning amiable air he could assume when he liked, had an attractive power for all. One song led to another, and singing relieved the terrible embarrassment. It was the only possible way of avoiding a conversation. Between the songs the Czar proposed a health, or drank to an old friend, reminding him of some experience which they had shared in common. He dared not look at the clock lest he should betray himself, but he found the half hour in this den of murderers intolerably long.

Several times he saw two exchanging glances, but then he threw in a jesting word and the thread was broken. He was playing for his life, and he played well, for he misled them with his cheerfulness and naivete, so that they could not tell whether he knew anything or not. He played with their irresolution.

At last he heard the rattle of arms in the courtyard, and with one bound he was out of the window.

"Massacre!" was his only word of command, and then the blood-bath began. He himself stood at the window, and when any one tried to jump out, the Czar struck off his head. "Alles tot!" he exclaimed in German, when it was all over. Then he went his way in the direction of the Peter-Paul Fortress.

He was received by the Commandant, and had himself conducted to Prince Alexis, his only surviving and eldest son, on whom he had built his hope and Russia's destiny.

With the key in his hand, he remained standing before the cell, made the sign of the cross and prayed half-aloud:—"O Eternal God of armies, Lord of Hosts, who hath put the sword into the hands of rulers that they may guide and protect, reward and punish, enlighten thy poor servant's understanding that he may deal righteously. Thou hast demanded from Abraham his son, and he obeyed. Thou hast crucified Thine own Son in order to redeem mankind. Take my sacrifice, O Terrible One, if Thou requirest it. Yet not my will be done, but Thine. May this cup pass if it be Thy will. Amen! in the name of Christ, Amen!"

He entered the cell, and remained there an hour. When he came out again, he looked as though he had been weeping; but he said nothing, handed the key to the Commandant, and departed. There are many varying rumours regarding what passed that evening between father and son. But one thing is certain: Alexis was condemned to death by a hundred and twenty-seven judges, and the verdict was entered on the State records. But the Crown Prince died before the execution of the sentence.

* * * * *

The same evening, about eight o'clock, the Czar entered his country-house and sought Katherine. "The old has passed away," he said. "Now we will begin the new—you and I and our children."

The Czarina asked no questions, for she understood. But the Czar was so tired and exhausted, that she feared lest he should have one of the attacks which she knew so well. And the only way of quieting him was the old customary one.

She sat down in the corner of the sofa; he laid down resting his head on her capacious bosom; then she stroked his hair till he fell asleep. But she had to sit for three hours without moving.

A giant child on a giant bosom, the great champion of the Lord lay there, his face looked small, his high brow was hidden by his long hair; his mouth was open, and he snored like a little child asleep. When at last he awoke, he looked up at first astonished, to find himself where he was. Then he smiled, but did not say Thank you, and did not fondle her.

"Now we will have something to eat," was the first thing he said. "Then something to drink, and then a great firework. I will light it myself down on the shore. But Jaen Scheerborck must be present."

"You have thrown him out."

"Have I? He was drunk, the fellow. Send for him at once."

"You are so strange, Peter! Never the same for two minutes together."

"I will not be the same; it would be too monotonous. Always something new! And I am always new. What! I do not weary you with everlasting sameness."

His orders were carried out. Jaen was brought, but had to be bound first; he was angry with Peter because of his ducking at the pump, and refused to come. But when he landed, he was embraced and kissed on the mouth, and then his wrath blew over.

They ate and drank and had their firework display, which was a great pleasure for the Czar.

So ended the fateful day which secured the succession to the throne to the house of Romanoff. And such was the man who termed himself "the Great, the Self-ruler, the Emperor of All the Russias."

The Barbarian, who civilised his Russia; who built towns and did not dwell in them himself; who beat his wife, and allowed extensive liberty to women,—his life was great, copious, and useful on the public side of it; in private, as it might chance to be. But he had a beautiful death, for he died in consequence of an illness contracted when saving a life from shipwreck—he who, with his own hand, had taken the lives of so many!



THE SEVEN GOOD YEARS

Monsieur Voltaire, gentleman-in-waiting to Frederick the Great, possessor of the much prized Order Pour Le Mrite, Academician, and many other things besides, had been for three years a guest at Sans-Souci, near Potsdam. He was sitting this beautiful evening in the wing of the castle where he lived, busy writing a letter. The air was still and warm, so that the sensitive Frenchman, who was always shivering, could leave the window open.

His letter, only half written, was directed to the Marquise, the friend of Cardinal Fleury, who carried on a sort of superior spy-service by means of correspondence with foreign countries.... "Everything is transitory," he wrote, "and it was plain that this would not last. I have to act as a tutor and correct his bad verses, though he knows neither German nor French properly. Malicious as an ape he has written satires on all the ruling heads of Europe which are certainly not fit for printing, but are quite vulgar and unjust. With a view to the future dear friend, I have caused his pamphlet to be copied, and at the moment when he strikes, I shall strike back. If you only knew what this Prussia is, and threatens to become! It is an eagle sketched in outline with the tip of one wing resting on the Rhine, and the other on the Russian frontier. There are gaps here and there in the outline, but when they are filled up the whole of North Germany will hang like a vulture over Austria's two-headed imperial eagle. France must control her hatred against the House of Hapsburg, and not compromise with the Hohenzollerns, for you know not what you do. One hears much talk of plans here, but I dare not write them all down, for he is not to be jested with."

At this point there was heard from the castle the penetrating sound of a flute, which executed trills and shakes. The old man (for he was now in his sixtieth year) first put his fingers in his ears, but then continued to write.... "And then his confounded flute! He is playing on it just now ... that means we are all to dance to his piping. But still worse than the flute is something which they call a fugue; I do not know whether one can call it music, but yesterday Sebastian Bach was here—'the great Bach' of course—and had his son Philipp Emanuel with him. The whole afternoon they played so-called fugues, so that I had to go to bed and take medicine. As regards his plans, I will only indicate some of them. One plan is to divide Austria between France and Prussia, but he is too cunning to do so, for he needs Austria to help him against France. A second plan is, to divide Prussia between Russia and Austria, and I have heard rumours of a third to divide Poland between Russia, Prussia, and Austria. (The flute is silent, and a heavenly stillness spreads over Sans-Souci, which for the future I shall write 'Cent-Soucis,' for a hundred petty vexations threaten to shorten my life here.) Our Round Table, which hitherto only consisted of men of talent, Maupertuis, La Mettrie, Algarotti, D'Argens, and their like, is now recruited by guardsmen from Potsdam, and is in course of degenerating into a tobacco-club. Ziethen and his Dessauers wear greasy leather boots, and brag of their 'five victories.' The day before yesterday they took liberties, silenced all intelligent conversation, and finally tried to make me the butt of their jests. What annoyed me the most was that he could not hide his pleasure at it. Altogether, the procession of the leather boots means war—as might be expected —against the lady Maria Teresa. The other lady, the Empress Elizabeth of Russia, he denotes by another uglier name.... He has become a women's hero, the nasty woman-hater. His wife, Elizabeth Christine, is still confined in Schnhausen."

A head looked in at the window, and the King greeted him, "Good evening, Monsieur; so busy?"

Like a boy surprised in cribbing, the writer threw his papers into disorder, and drew half a sheet of Dutch vellum over them.

"Yes, sire, I have just finished a poem to the Emperor Kian-Loung, which is an answer to his 'Eloge de Mukden.'"

"To the Emperor of China! You have grander acquaintances than I."

"But you have me, sire."

This he said with a superior air of satirising himself, as though he would make game of his own notorious vanity.

The King took the jest as it was intended. "Yes, Monsieur Voltaire belongs to my most honourable acquaintances, but I would not say to the grandest."

"May I now read my poem to the Chinese Emperor? Do you allow me, sire?"

"Would it be any use, if I did not allow it, you pushing man?"

"Very well:

"'Recois mes compliments, charmant roi de la Chine.'"

"But he is an Emperor."

"Yes, but that is a politeness towards you, sire, who are only a King!"

"Only!"

"I continue:

"'Ton trne est done plac sur la double colline On sait dans l'Occident, que malgre mes travers J'ai toujours fort aim les rois qui font des vers!'"

"Thank you."

"'O toi que sur le trne un feu cleste enflamme Des moi si ce grand art don't nous sommes pris, Est aussi difficile Pekin qu' Paris.

Ton peuple est-il soumis a cette loi si dure, Qui vent qu'avec six pieds d'une gale mesure

De deux Alexandrins, cte cte marchants L'un serve pour la rime, et l'autre pour le sens? Si bien que sans rien perdre, en bravant cet usage, On pourrait retrancher la moiti d'un ouvrage.'"

"Bravo! Very good!" broke in the King, who felt the sting of the satire but could control himself.

"But do you think that the Emperor will understand that—at any rate as you intend it?"

"If he does not understand it, then he is a blockhead...."

"But if he does, you may expect a declaration of war."

"China against Voltaire!"

"What would you do then?"

"I would beat them, as you do, with my troops, of course."

"But if the Emperor has more troops than you?"

"Then I should flee, of course, like you do, sire, or I let myself be put to flight, and so save my honour as a soldier."

The King was accustomed to Voltaire's impertinences, and he pardoned them for the moment, but stored them in his memory.

"But now, don't stick poking about in your room, Monsieur. Come out for a walk with me. We will philosophise in the cool of the evening. I have so much to say, and must put my thoughts in order for the great work."

"Sire, I will come immediately."

"No, now; I am waiting."

Monsieur Voltaire became nervous, and began to tidy his desk; he pulled out drawers, and protracted the business. But the King stood as if on guard, and watched him. At last the old man had to stop tidying up and come out, but his limbs twitched, and he shook himself, as though he wished to shake off something. The King led him down the third terrace, and turned to the right into the park, where they found a long avenue which led to a small circular open space. Here there stood the Temple of Friendship.

There was an embarrassing silence between them, but Frederick, who had learnt self-control, was the first to find the thread which they had lost. But he had to introduce the conversation by commencing with their present surroundings.

"What a peaceful evening, Monsieur! Peace in nature and in human life! Have you noticed that there has been no war in the world for seven years—that is, since the Peace of Aachen?"

"Now I have not thought about it. Well, you can now expect the seven lean kine—I mean years."

"Who knows! You spoke just now of Kian Loung, the peaceful prince who philosophises and writes verses on tea-plant blossoms; who serves his people and makes them happy. His neighbour Japan has enjoyed peace for a hundred years. In India the French and English are rivalling each other in trade. That is the great East, which we shall soon have to take into account—. If we consider our portion of the world, with which I reckon Egypt, the latter lies asleep under Pashas and Mamelukes. Greece, our motherland, has entered its last sleep. The Athens of Pericles is an appendage of the Sultan's harem, and is ruled by black eunuchs. Rome, or rather Italy, is parcelled out between Lorraine, the House of Bourbon, and Savoy. But in Rome is my friend Benedict XIV; he is also a man of peace, and the first Pope, moreover, who acknowledges the King of Prussia. He tolerates Protestants, helps forward science, and has allowed latitude and longitude to be measured...."

"And expelled the Jesuits, whom you, sire, have received. You ought not to have done that."

"What do you know of the Jesuits? In Spain we have Ferdinand VI, who encourages mining, combats the Inquisition, fosters the sciences."

"The itch for writing seems to be spreading over the earth like a pestilence."

"In England my uncle George, the pupil of Adam Smith, is working solely for the commercial prosperity of his country. The others we know. But we ought to remember the great discoveries of our century —fire-machines, thermometers, lightning-conductors, anchor-watches. In fact it is the Golden Age which has returned at this late epoch."

"Think only of the fire-machines which they now call steam-engines. And of the telegraphs! What may we not next expect!"

"War, of course."

"I have never loved war, as you know, but I have been driven to it."

"With the stick."

The King was not angry, but he was troubled that a remarkable man, who had been his friend and teacher, should commit such a btise.

"You are right; it was my father's stick, and I bless it. But although I do not believe that the Golden Age is before the door, yet I do see a brighter future in the distance."

"I see only clouds which foretell earthquakes. France is undermined; America is moving; all Europe is prepared to discard Christianity as a crab its shell; Economics are reduced to a science; nature is ransacked; we are on the verge of something novel and tremendous; I feel it already in my corns."

"I also! My leisure-time is drawing to an end, my Tusculum will be closed, and dreadful things are about to happen."

On the King's face at this moment there was such an indescribable expression of pain, as though he had foreseen the Seven Years' War which followed immediately on the seven years' of peace, and he seemed to be bowed to the earth bearing the destiny of his country and the future on his shoulders.

"Sire, at such moment, you need some religion."

"My duty is my religion. My God is the Providence which guides the destinies of the nations but leaves individuals to themselves! What are men that you should take notice of these ants?"

The conversation was interrupted by a person who appeared in the background and resembled a judicial official. Voltaire saw who it was, and became furious: "Your Majesty, how can you allow this rag-tag and bob-tail to enter the castle-park? Why do you not enclose it with iron gates and railings?"

"No," answered the King; "I am not the master of my own person, still less of this castle, but all have rights over me!"

"But this is atrocious! Can I not drive him away?"

"No, you cannot!"

The King beckoned, and the stranger approached with his hat in his hand.

"What do you want, my friend?" asked the King.

"Only to deliver a document to Monsieur Voltaire, your Majesty."

"Then do your duty."

The man handed the document to Voltaire, and retired. When the old man had opened and read it, he fell on his knees before the King and exclaimed, "Save me, sire!"

"That is your law-suit with Hirschel about the Saxon state papers. You thought to deceive each other and the public, but the Jew did not let you lead him by the nose, Monsieur, and now you are exposed as a falsifier!"

"Save me, your Majesty!"

"How can I?"

"With a word—a single good word before the court...."

"For shame, old man! Do you think I can bend the law? Do you want me to bribe the judges? No, Monsieur, there are judges in Berlin who cannot be bribed! My word counts as little as that of the meanest. Stand up, go to your room, and meet me at supper."

"Sire, I beg to be excused coming to supper this evening."

"Good! then we will meet to-morrow."

* * * * *

When Voltaire reached his room, he began to search through his papers which he had left in disorder. He looked for a whole hour for the letter he had written to the Marquise, without being able to find it. Then he perceived that the letter had been seized, and he conceived a suspicion against the King. He stormed about in the room till it had become dark outside. He felt that it was all over with friendship and hospitality, with high position and honour, and that he must depart—perhaps by flight.

Accordingly he closed the window-shutters, and made a fire in the stove in order to burn dangerous papers. When he had finished, he went to bed, and rang for a servant: "Ask Monsieur La Mettrie to come; I am ill," he ordered.

La Mettrie, the author of L'Homme Machine, a most rigorous materialist and atheist, enjoyed Frederick's favour on account of his writings. After his death the King himself delivered a funeral oration over him in the Academy. Voltaire was jealous of him, as he was of everyone who stood in his way, but La Mettrie was a physician, and Voltaire could be amiable to anyone of whom he stood in need.

The doctor came, not out of philanthropy, but from curiosity and a certain malicious satisfaction at seeing the favourite in disgrace.

"My dear friend," said the old man, "I am sick in body and soul."

"You haven't got a soul."

"But the trouble is in the heart."

"Cor, cordis, the heart; then you have eaten too much. Take a purge, Monsieur; then you will be lighter than lightmindedness itself."

"Prescribe me some proper medicine, man; I am dying."

"Then go to a watering-place."

"Like a minister who is in disgrace; no, thank you."

"Go home to your own country; you are suffering from homesickness."

"Yes, there you are right! The air here does not suit me."

"You are beginning to get stout."

"What do you mean by that?"

"And the Marquises are longing for you."

"Are they? What nonsense you talk! But I must have a watering-place."

"Well, take Plombires! There you will meet the court."

"That is an excellent idea! Plombires! But I will return, of course."

"Of course!"

"I will be back in three weeks—let us say a month. If only the King will not be vexed...."

"Let me assure you, the King will console himself."

"Yes, yes, I will consider the matter. But say—he is not angry with me?"

"Who?"

"The King!"

"He is not angry with you, otherwise he would have been so long ago! No, you are belated in thinking that."

"Give me a sleeping powder, and then you can go."

The doctor took the powder, and poured it in a glass of water.

The old man drank, but his large eyes followed the changing expressions of the doctor's face, who looked very amused. He did not altogether trust him.

"Monsieur Voltaire," said the doctor, "when you make a fire in the oven, draw up the small oven-shutters, else there is too much smoke. The Potsdam fire-engines would very likely be summoned."

"Oh! That too! Well! La comedia finita! Good-night!"

"Sic transit gloria mundi! Sleep well!"

Voltaire slept during the night, but not well, and was awakened on the following morning by the sound of salutes fired at Potsdam; from which he concluded that the King was holding manoeuvres. Neither did he see any sign of the King, but about noonday he received a letter bearing the royal arms which ran as follows:—

"MONSIEUR,—Doctor La Mettrie has told me of your determination to travel to a watering-place. Although I shall miss your pleasant and instructive conversation, I will not resist your wish, since I am sure that a thorough course of treatment will benefit your nerves and the wretched state of your heart. Wishing you a good recovery, or at any rate hoping that you will not be worse than you are,

"I am

"F. R."

That was his passport for the journey. The same evening Voltaire travelled to Leipzig, where he read extracts from Frederick's collection of satires which he also thought of having printed. But in Frankfurt he was arrested and deprived of the precious manuscripts, which might have made more enemies for Frederick than he actually did make later on. Rebuked, and again liberated, Voltaire fled at first to France, where he published in the Dictionnaire Historique the most abominable assertions regarding Frederick's private life.

Two years later he was settled at Ferney, on the Lake of Geneva, as a multi-millionaire, patriarch, and king.

* * * * *

Many years passed, and still the old Voltaire reigned at his Sans-Souci called Ferney—just as energetic as ever, just as restless and vain.

His little chteau was a modest two-storied building in a circular enclosure, surrounded by a courtyard planted with trees. On the left of the entrance stood a small stone chapel. A tablet over the door bore the inscription, "Deo erexit Voltaire," which roused the mirth of his literary friends and the hatred of the ecclesiastical party.

Below in the garden he had an arbour-walk of hornbeam covered in, and resembling a long hall with windows cut in the side, looking towards the lake. From thence he could see Mont Blanc, which especially at sunset showed all its splendour, and the blue levels of the lake stretching towards Clarens and the Rhone Valley, where the unfortunate Rousseau had wandered, loved, and suffered. Just now in the twilight, the old man sat in his arbour walk and played bezique with the local pastor, when the post arrived. There were many letters with shining seals.

"Excuse me, Abb, I must read my letters!"

"Pray do so," answered the priest, and stood up in order to promenade up and down the arbour walk.

After a while the old man called his friend back: "Come, Abb, come! You must hear something!"

The Abb, who, for the sake of his flock, kept on good terms with Voltaire, and humoured his whims, without, however, yielding to him in theological discussions, came at the summons.

"You must hear a letter from Frederick the Great, the Unique, the Incomparable. He has pardoned me, and I am ashamed. My last evening in Sans-Souci I was irritated, and in my cruelty I was mean enough to remind him of his father's stick. The moment that the word escaped, I felt his retort in the air, but he restrained it. He had only needed to return the thrust with a reference to the stick which had played a certain part in my youth, but he kept silent, whether out of regard for my years or for some other reason. (It is remarkable that the stick has also had an influence on the development of the great Shakespeare and others.) Excuse, Abb, this garrulitas senilis—he has pardoned me, and writes, 'My old friend!'

"'The years have passed; to the seven good years which you shared with me succeeded the seven lean ones—the Seven Years' War and all that it brought with it. Friends have departed, and a great loneliness enfolds the ageing man, who now, among other things, begins to be far-sighted, after being formerly short-sighted. He sees life in a perspective where the apparently shorter lines are the longest. He knows that from experience, and therefore lets himself no longer be deceived. Standing on the height which he has gained, he is glad to look back, but he can also now see in front of him.

"'What is now impending? Who can say? This century, which has seen all the sovereigns leading revolutionary movements, is the strangest of all. We despots, who forced enlightenment and freedom on the peoples—we were the demagogues and they rewarded us with ingratitude. It was a perverse world! I have suffered for my doctrines and actions, but the fate of Joseph II is tragic. They are slowly but surely murdering him.

"'You do not love war: nor do I, but I was forced to it by Providence and solicitude for my country. What have I effected thereby? you ask. I have made a "re-distribution," as land-surveyors call it, and out of scattered patches and scraps of territory I have woven together a Prussia, so that we can now walk on our own ground, without treading on our neighbour's. Do not fear Prussia; you need it as a bulwark against Russia, which now, since the time of the Czar Peter, has a voice and vote in the Council of Europe. You disapprove of my sharing in the partition of Poland, but I was obliged to do so; otherwise Russia would have taken all. Poland had lost its significance in the geographical economy of Europe; it was Russianised, and the role it had played was taken over by the Sarmatian.... Silesia was ours, and thank God that the Swedes did not obtain it, as they at first wished. Moreover, we have sent the Goths home to their own country, and look after our own affairs ourselves.'"

"And so on! Then he says something about Rousseau."

"'You call Rousseau a swindler; that is a somewhat severe expression. Even if he did really steal a piece of ribbon, or a silver spoon, it is not worth talking about. I share his love for nature and his hatred of mankind. One evening lately, as the sun went down, I thought: "God! how beautiful are Thy natural creations, and how hideous are Thy human creatures!" We men, I mean—for I except neither myself nor you, Monsieur. This cursed race truly belongs to the Iron Age as described by Hesiod. And we are asked to believe that they are created after God's image! After the image of the Devil, I would rather say! Rousseau is right when he believes in a past Golden Age.'

"What do you say to that, Monsieur l'Abb?"

"It is what the Church teaches regarding the lost Paradise and the Fall, and also agrees with the Greek legend of Prometheus, who ate of the tree of knowledge, and thereby brought misfortune on men."

"Good heavens! Have you too become a freethinker? Shoemaker, stick to your last! If you are a priest, then be a priest, but don't try to make a botch of my work. And don't think you need to flatter me for an increase of wages. But let us return to Frederick:"

"'History rolls on like an avalanche; the race improves, the conditions of life become easier, but men are still the same —faithless, unthankful, criminal; and he just as well as the unjust go to hell. I do not dare to put down on paper the conclusions to be drawn from this observation, for that would be to acquit Lazarus, and to crucify Christ.... Great men have little weaknesses or rather great weaknesses. We, Monsieur, have been no angels, but Providence has used us for great objects. Is it a matter of indifference to Providence whom it takes in hand, or how we live in the flesh, provided we keep the spirit uppermost? Sursum corda!'"

"What do you say to that, Abb?"

"The Law cannot be fulfilled, says St. Paul, but the Law rouses the sense of guilt, and therefore it is only imposed in order to drive us to grace."

"That was not such a stupid remark of Paul's. But I should like to add,—in the prison of the flesh grows the longing for liberation: 'Who shall deliver me, wretched man, from this body of sin?' Yes, Abb, Vanitas vanitatum! Vanitas! You are young, but you must not despise the old man when he turns round and spits behind him all the unpleasantness of his past life. Might but a generation be born which knew at once the value of life, as long as a mud-bath is not part of the treatment!"

Just then a dark lean man came tortuously along the garden path.

"See! there is my Jesuit!" said Voltaire.

The old man kept on friendly terms with a Jesuit, partly because the Pope had expelled them, partly because Frederick the Great had patronised them; but his chief object was to have someone to dispute with. Perhaps also he wished to show his freedom from prejudice, for he did not like the uncongenial man.

"Now, you child of Satan!" was the old man's greeting, "what mischief have you got in your mind? You look so maliciously pleased!"

"I come from Geneva," answered the Jesuit with an evil smile.

"What are they doing there?"

"I saw the executioner burn Rousseau's Emile."

"They may do that, as far as I am concerned, and throw the fool himself into the fire."

"Monsieur Voltaire!"

"Yes: one cannot tolerate lunatics: there are limits!"

"Where?"

"Imposed by a sound intelligence."

"Yes, and saw them burn the new edition of Monsieur Voltaire's Candide."

"For shame! But it is merely a mob in Geneva."

"A Protestant mob, with your permission."

"Don't trouble yourself; I hate Protestants equally with Catholics! This terrible Calvin burnt his friend Servetus in Geneva, because he did not believe in the Trinity. And had Jean Calas in Toulouse been a Catholic, and his son a Protestant, I would still have attacked the judges, although I am nothing. I am nothing; only, what I write is something."

"Then some day we will raise a monument to Monsieur Voltaire's writings—not to Voltaire."

"You have no need; I have already raised my monument myself in the hundred volumes of my collected works. The world has nothing to do with how the old ass looked; there is nothing to see in that. We know my weaknesses; I have lied, I have stolen, I have been ungrateful; something of a scoundrel, something of a brute! That is the dirty part of me, and I bequeath it to Jesuits, pettifoggers, hair-splitters and collectors of anecdotes;—but my spirit to God who gave it, and to men an honest purpose to understand their Monsieur Voltaire."

He rose, for the sun had descended.

"Good-night, Mont Blanc; you have a white head like myself, and stand with your feet in cold water, as I do! Now I go and lie down! Tomorrow I travel to Paris, where I will die."



DAYS OF JUDGMENT

In the northern tower of the Church of Notre Dame de Paris was the tower-watchman's chamber. But it had been arranged like a bookbinder's workshop, for the watchman's day-duty was not particularly heavy, and the hours of the night passed with sleep or without sleep, no one troubling themselves to oversee this now superfluous church servant.

Nobody entered the church, which had been damaged in various ways, and no one ascended the northern tower, for the bells hung in the southern one. There the watchman's duty was regarded more seriously, for on all extraordinary occasions the alarm-bell had to sound.

The watchman kept up a sort of telegraphic communication with the bellringer in the southern tower. In calm weather they could chat with each other, but when it was windy, they had to use speaking trumpets.

The workshop had, in the course of years, developed into a very comfortable room. Its southern side was occupied by a single large bookcase. There the first edition of the Encyclopdie in five and thirty volumes, shone resplendent in red morocco with gilt letters. There stood Voltaire, Rousseau, Montesquieu, Locke, Hume—all the authors who ought to have been present. There were also periodicals, the Moniteur, Pre Duchesne and Marat's L'Ami du Peuple. This last was bound in somewhat greasy leather, which resembled pig's-skin, and had curled up at the corners.

Another wall was covered with engravings, some coloured and some plain. They hung in chronological order from left to right, from top to bottom, so that one could read the whole history of the Revolution pictorially. The Oath in the ball-room on June 20, 1789, with Mirabeau's portrait; the burning of the Bastille, and the head of the commandant; the Jacobite Club, with Marat, Saint-Just, Couthon, Robespierre; the Feast of Brotherhood on the Champ du Mars; the King's Flight to Varennes; Lafayette; the Girondists; the execution of the King and Queen; the Committee of Public Welfare, with Danton and the newly hatched Robespierre; the Reign of Terror; Charlotte Corday stabbing Marat in the bath; Robespierre again; Feast of the Supreme Being; Voltaire's Funeral; Robespierre again, this time on the 9th Thermidor. Then came Buonaparte and the Directory, mixed with Pyramids and Alps.

In the middle of the room stood a very large table. At the one end were the bookbinder's tools; at the other, writing materials. The inkstand was a skull; the ruler was a fore-arm; the paper-weight was a guillotine, and the penholder a rib.

The bookbinder himself, a centenarian, with an apostolic beard, sat and wrote under a lantern which hung from the roof. He was the only person visible in the room. Outside it was stormy, and the roof-plates rattled from time to time; it was cool in the room, but not cold, for a stove was lit in a corner, where lay the watchman's belongings—a great wolfskin fur-coat, a speaking trumpet, some flags, and a lantern with variously coloured glass sides. The old man pushed his glasses up his forehead, looked up, and spoke, though the person with whom he talked could not be seen.

"Are you hungry?"

A voice behind the bookcase answered: "Fairly so."

"Are you cold?"

"No, not yet."

"Wait a little; I must just go outside and make an observation."

"What are you writing?"

"My reminiscences."

"Is it quiet in the town?"

"Yes, but they have gone out to Saint Cloud."

"Then it will soon come to shooting."

"It won't come to shooting, but we may expect a proclamation. Be quiet now; I must step out, and send a message. Then you will get some food and drink; perhaps a pipe of tobacco also."

There was silence behind the bookcase, and the old man put on his fur-coat, lit his many-coloured lamp, took up a speaking-trumpet, and stepped out on the balcony.

It was very dark, but the old man was familiar with his menagerie out there on the parapet; he loved his stone monsters—the owl, the griffin, the gorgon, and stroked them every time that he passed them. But the creature with a man's body, goat's feet and horns, inspired him with a certain awe, as it stood there leaning on its hands like a priest, and bending forward as if to preach to the godless city or to hurl anathemas at it. He took his stand near it, and began to signal with the lantern. But the wind was so violent that the old man swayed, and had to put his arm round the creature's body, in order to support himself.

After he had stood for a time signalling with the lantern, and gazing out into the darkness, he suddenly raised himself upright, put down the lantern, and raised the speaking-trumpet to his mouth. Holding on to the stone balustrade, he turned to the southern tower, and cried "Hullo! Francis! Hallo!"

After a while a reply came through the darkness.

"Qui vive?"

"Mont-joie—Saint-Denis."

"Sacre!" answered the other. "Ring the great bell! Ring, for heaven's sake!"

The watchman remained standing for a while looking at the coloured lights on the church tower of St. Cloud. In order to be quite certain, he repeated his signal, and received for answer: "Right understood."

The old man sighed "Thy will be done, O Lord!" He was on the point of returning to the turret-chamber, when the wind blew so violently, that he had to seize the arm of the horned monster in order to stand fast. But the figure had got loose; it yielded, and moved a little.

"He too!" muttered the old man to himself. "Nothing stands fast, everything slips; nothing remains on which to support oneself." He crouched down in order not to be blown away, and so stooping, as he walked, reached the door of the turret-chamber, which he flung open.

"The Revolution is over," he called out to the bookcase.

"What do you say?"

"The Revolution is over! Come out, sire."

He laid hold of the bookcase, and opened it like a door on its hinges. It concealed a neat little room furnished in the style of Louis XV. Out of it stepped a man of about thirty, with pale delicate features and a melancholy aspect.

"Sire," said the bookbinder in a humble voice, "now your time is come, and mine runs out. I do not exactly know what has happened on this eighteenth of Brumaire in Saint Cloud, but one thing I know: Buonaparte has taken the helm."

"Jaques," answered the nobleman, "I do not wish to hurt your feelings, but I cannot conceal my joy."

"Don't conceal it, sire! You have saved me from the scaffold, and I have saved you; let us thank each other, and be quits."

"To think that this bloody drama is ended—that this madness...."

"Sire, don't speak so."

His eyes began to sparkle, but he quickly changed his tone. "Let us eat our last meal together, but in love like fellow-men; let us talk of the past, and then part in peace. This evening we are still brothers, but to-morrow you are the lord and I am the servant."

"You are right. To-day I am an emigrant, tomorrow I am a count."

The old man brought out a cold fowl, a cheese, and a bottle of wine, and both took their places at the table.

"This wine, sire, was bottled in '89. It has a history, and therefore...."

"Have you no white wine? I do not like red."

"Is it the colour you dislike?"

"Yes, it looks like blood! You have lost a wife and four sons."

"Why should I weep for them? They fell on the field of honour."

"The scaffold!"

"I call the scaffold the field of honour! But you want white wine! Good! You shall have it. You prefer the colour of tears; I prefer that of blood!"

He opened a bottle of white wine: "Suum cuique! Tastes differ. We can now breathe again, and sleep quietly at night. That was the hardest thing to bear during this last decade—the loss of sleep at night. The fear of death was worse than death itself."

"The worst for us—pardon the expression—was to see the State and society turned topsyturvy, and brutality enthroned."

"Wait a little! Louis XIV paid two gentlemen of the chamber twenty thousand livres yearly to examine and carry away his night stool every morning. The Sansculottes could not be coarser than that. Marie Antoinette used to go and spend the night drinking with her boon-companions, so that she returned home about eleven o'clock the next morning exhausted; that was coarse conduct for such a fine lady."

"You may draw the long bow to-night, Jaques; but to-morrow take care of your head! You ought not to speak so of these high personages who have suffered a martyr's death."

"Stop! stop! The King was what they call 'a fine fellow,' but the Queen was a wretch. But both were justly condemned to death—both! Look you! if Turgot could have remained at his post, the Revolution would not have broken out. All the reforms in the State, Church, and Society, which we—pardon the expression—have carried through could have been carried through then, if Turgot had been allowed to put his plans into operation. The Queen would not endure the Minister's retrenchment of her revenue, and plotted for his removal, and the King supported her. That was a great crime. The second was the overthrow of Necker. Then the Queen and her Court minxes ruled. Both King and Queen sought to stir up foreign countries against their own; their correspondence relating to this was discovered, and then the betrayers of their country were condemned to death. Don't talk of Martyrs, or I shall be angry. For I am angry when I hear lies, and cannot control myself."

The Count laid his hand on his sword.

"Put your sword in its sheath, young man, or otherwise...."

They sat down on opposite sides of the table, and darted angry glances at each other.

"The ultimate causes," continued the old man, "may be sought in heaven, but we have here only to do with secondary causes, and those we know. The Revolution was a Last Judgment which had to come, just as it came in England exactly a hundred years before, in 1689."

"But Cromwell's republic did not last."

"Nor does this; but it comes again! But let us rather talk of something cheerful on this last evening. I have been present at everything; I have a strong memory, and can forget nothing. But what shines most brightly through all the dark days is the recollection of the day on the Champs du Mars, the Feast of Brotherhood of July 14, '90. Twenty thousand workmen were employed to clear it, but, as they could not finish the work by the appointed day, all Paris went out. There I saw bishops, court marshals, generals, monks, nuns, society ladies, workmen, sailors, dustmen, and street-girls levelling the ground with hoes and spades. Finally the King himself made up his mind to join in the work. That was the greatest feat of equalisation which mankind have carried out; the hills were made low, and the valleys filled. At last the great theatre of liberty was ready. At the altar of the Fatherland a fire of perfumed wood was kindled, and Talleyrand, Bishop of Autun, with a retinue of four hundred white-robed priests consecrated the flags. The King in civil dress and the Queen sat on the platform, and, as the 'first citizens of the State,' took the constitutional oath. All was forgotten; all was forgiven. Half a million people, collected in one place, animated by one spirit, felt themselves that day to be brothers and sisters. We wept, we fell in each other's arms, we kissed each other. We wept to think what wretches we had been, and how good and amiable we were now. We wept perhaps, also, because we guessed how fragile all this was.

"And afterwards, in the evening, when Paris turned out in the streets and market-places. Families ate their mid-day meal on the pavement; the old and sick were carried into the open air; food and wine were distributed at the public expense. That was the Feast of Tabernacles, the recollection of the Exodus from Egyptian bondage; it was the Saturnalia, the return of the Golden Age! And then...."

"Then came Marat, Danton, and Robespierre."

"Yes! Robespierre, the most hated of all, was not worse than Louis XI and Henry VIII."

"A murderer."

"The judge is not a murderer, nor is the executioner."

"But the Golden Age passed—as it came."

"Yet it comes again."

"Not with Buonaparte!"

"No, not with him, but through him." "Who is he?"

"A Corsican, born in the same year in which France annexed his country. He will avenge it, and, since he can never feel himself a Frenchman, he will exploit our country only for his own purposes. But nevertheless, in spite of his unparalleled selfishness, his wickedness and crimes, he will serve humanity—for everything serves."

"And afterwards?"

"Who can say? Probably things will go on as they have done hitherto; sometimes advancing, then a halt; then again advance."

"And then the obsolete turns up again."

"Yes, like a drowning man. Three times he comes to the surface to breathe, but the fourth time he remains below. Or, like an animal chewing the cud; for some time there are small eructations, re-mastications, and then everything is ejected through the gullet, after going through the circle."

"Do you believe in the return of the Golden Age?"

"Yes I believe like Thomas, when I have seen. And I have seen. At the moment, which I now recall, on the Champs du Mars,—then I saw! We had a forefeeling of the future, we were sure that we had had a vision of some new order of things, but were uncertain when it would be established."

"How long are we to wait?"

"We should not sit still and wait, but work! That makes the time pass. The learned say that it took a million years for the Hill of Montmartre to be deposited from the water. Now history is only three thousand years old; for three thousand years more, men can reflect over their past, and perhaps in six thousand an improvement may be noticeable! We are too proud and impatient, sire. And yet things move quickly. America was discovered only three hundred years ago, and now it is an European republic. Africa, India, China, Japan are opened, and soon the whole world will belong to Europe. Do you see the promise to Abraham, 'In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed,' is on the way to fulfilment—on the way, I say."

"The promise to Abraham?"

"Yes! Have not Christians, Jews, and Muhammedans a share in the promise?"

"Christians of Abraham's seed?"

"Through Christ, who was of Judah, we are spiritually Abraham's seed. One faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all!"

"I have listened to you, and must say that your faith is great, and has delivered you."

"As it will deliver mankind."

The conversation now ceased, for the alarm-bell began to ring in the south tower. The sound of it overpowered the din of the storm, and filled the room with its vibrations, made the table and chairs shake, and both men tremble. The old man tried to speak, but his guest heard nothing, and only saw his lips move. Then the old man rose and pointed to one of the many engravings.

It represented Anacharsis Clootz, the philanthropist and philosopher, in a convent, with a crowd of people from all corners of the earth—black, yellow, white, copper-coloured—seeking to have them admitted as citizens into the world-republic. The Count smiled in answer half-distrustfully, half-tolerantly. The old man tried to speak, but could not be heard. The boom of the bell seemed to come from the depths of ages, ringing out the past century and ringing in the new, which would commence in a few weeks—the nineteenth century since the birth of the Redeemer, who has promised to return, and perhaps will do so in one way or another.

The Count sat there fingering the letter-weight in the shape of a guillotine. Suddenly he seized it, and looked questioningly at the old man, who nodded in the affirmative. The letter-weight was thrown into the paper-basket.

The great bell ceased ringing, the room was quiet, and the old man, his arms folded over his breast, spoke as though with a sigh of gratitude.

"The Revolution is over."

"This Revolution!"

"'Tribulation worketh patience; patience, experience; experience, hope; and hope maketh not ashamed!'"



STRINDBERG'S DEATH-BED

(From the Aftonbladet, Stockholm, May 15, 1912) The last time that Strindberg was in full possession of his senses was late on Monday afternoon (May 13th). He recognised his daughter Greta, who sat by his bed, and her husband, Dr. Philp. He was fully aware that the end was near. He made a sign that he wished to have his Bible, which lay on the table by the bed. They gave it him; he took it in his hand and said: "All that is personal is now obliterated. I have done with life and closed the account. This is the only truth."

He kissed his daughter, but only said, "Dear Greta." Then he said to Dr. Philp, "Are you still here, Henry?" After talking a little more, his last utterance was, "Now I have said my last word. Now I talk no more." He kept his Bible so closely clasped to his breast as though that were the only thing he had to hold fast before the end.

So Stromboli retreated in the gloom, Flinging red flame and molten lava high, A flaring portent: We, who passed it by, Carry that lurid memory to the tomb; Yet round its crater living flowers bloom, The vine, fig, olive grow and fructify, Over it laughs the blue Sicilian sky, A paradise upon the verge of doom. As fiery as that red volcanic blast, Through years he wrestled with his unseen Foe, Wailing in pain "I will not let Thee go Unless Thou bless me who have held Thee fast,"— And thus, like Jacob, from his overthrow, He rose a cripple, but a prince at last_.

THE END

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