For months prior to the assassination of Empress Elizabeth, forebodings of an impending catastrophe were prevalent at the Court of Vienna, and so imbued was Emperor Francis-Joseph with ominous presentiments, that he repeatedly exclaimed in the hearing of his entourage: "Oh, if only this year were at an end!"
These apprehensions on the part of the monarch and his court were due to an incident which took place on the night of April 24, 1898, and which was of sufficient importance to be comprised in the regular report made on the following morning to his military superiors by the officer of the guard at the Hofburg. It seems that the sentinel posted in the corridor or hall leading to the chapel was startled almost out of his senses by seeing the form of a white-clad woman approaching him, soon after one o'clock in the morning. He at once challenged her, whereupon the figure turned round, and passed back into the chapel, where the soldier then observed a light. Hastily summoning assistance, a strict search was instituted, but the chapel was explored without any result.
The sentinel in question was a stolid, rather dull-minded Styrian peasant, who was possessed of but little power of imagination or of education, and who was entirely ignorant, therefore, of the tradition according to which a woman in white makes her appearance by night in the Hofburg at Vienna, either in the chapel or in the adjoining corridors and halls, whenever any misfortune is about to overtake the imperial house of Hapsburg.
On each occasion, this spectral appearance to the sentinel on duty has been described in the report of the officer of the guard on the following morning, and is absolutely a matter of official record. The previous visitations of the "white lady" had taken place on the eve of the shocking tragedy of Mayerling; a few weeks previous to the shooting of Emperor Maximilian of Mexico; and prior to the burning to death of the daughter of old Archduke Albert, at Schoenbrunn; while the very fact that there should have been no supernatural appearance of this kind at the time when Archduke John vanished from human ken, leads the imperial family and the Court of Austria to still doubt the story, according to which he perished at sea while on his way round Cape Horn, from La Plata to Valparaiso.
I do not know the origin of the "white lady" tradition at Vienna, nor have I ever been able to ascertain anything definite about her history, but there is plenty of documentary evidence, as well as a wonderful array of records concerning "the white lady of the Hohenzollerns," who makes her appearance in the old palace at Berlin whenever death is about to overtake a member of the reigning house of Prussia. The late Emperor Frederick—the most matter-of-fact and least imaginative prince of his line—was particularly interested in the matter, and collected all the evidence that he could upon the subject, for the purpose of depositing it in the archives of his family.
Perhaps the most important testimony in this connection are the sworn statements signed by Prince Frederick of Prussia, and a number of his fellow officers, to all of whom the "White Lady" is declared to have appeared as they sat together on the eve of the prince's death at the battle of Saalfeld in 1806.
Moreover, Thomas Carlyle went to no little trouble to procure evidence when writing the history of Frederick the Great, that the "White Lady" had appeared to that famous monarch on the eve of his death. The king, it is asserted, was on the high road to recovery from his illness, when suddenly one morning he declared that he had seen the white-clad spectre during the night, that his hour had come, and that it was useless to ward off death any longer. So he refused to take any further medicine or nourishment, turned his face to the wall, and died.
The "White Lady" is considered sufficiently real by the hard-headed matter-of-fact commanders of the Prussian army, to lead to their adopting special measures whenever her appearance is reported. The moment she is seen, the sentinels within and around the royal palace are at once doubled. The object of this is not so much to protect the royal family from harm, as to prevent the sentinels themselves from following the example of the two who shot themselves while on guard at the palace in the year 1888, one, shortly before the death of old Emperor William, the other, a few days before the demise of Emperor Frederick, the men in each case declaring before they expired that they had seen the "White Lady," their story being in a measure borne out by the fact that their faces even after death seemed to be distorted with terror.
The appearances of the "White Lady" are kept as quiet as possible, the matter is never mentioned at court, save in whispers, and nothing concerning her is ever permitted to appear in print in the Berlin papers.
This dread apparition that forebodes evil to the reigning house of Prussia, is supposed to be the spectre of Countess Agnes Orlamunde, who murdered her first husband, as well as her two children, who constituted an obstacle to her marriage with, one of the ancestors of the kaiser.
The palace in which the spectre of this historic murderess appears is a huge and massive structure of grey stone, the walls of which are pierced by over one thousand windows, and which contains over six hundred rooms. Commenced four hundred and fifty years ago by one of the earliest electors of Brandenburg, it has been added to by each sovereign in turn, until it has attained its present enormous dimensions.
There is probably no structure of the kind in the world the building of which has cost so many lives. Indeed the very mortar used in its construction may be said to have been mixed with blood. The people of Berlin, who from time immemorial have been noted for their democracy and their spirit of independence, have opposed from the very outset the erection of this building in their midst as calculated to endanger their liberty, and many were the attempts that they made to arrest the undertaking, and to destroy the work already accomplished. Bloody fights took place between the mob and the troops appointed to protect the workmen, and on two occasions the populace even went so far as to cut the dams, and destroy the flood gates, deluging the foundations with the waters of the River Spree, and drowning each time many hundreds of workmen.
Even at the present moment Emperor William is engaged in an angry fight with, the people of Berlin in connection with this palace. He wishes to surround it with a terrace and a garden, which will naturally add to its beauty. At present the windows look onto the public streets, a fact which, in these days of bombs and dynamite outrages, renders it difficult to protect with any degree of efficiency. The municipality and people of Berlin, however, absolutely decline to consent to the expropriations necessary in order to enable the destruction and removal of the existing houses and buildings which interfere with the execution of his majesty's project.
Like his uncle, the Prince of Wales, the kaiser is very superstitious on the subject of the number thirteen in the case of any entertainment, and more than once has a mere subaltern who happened to be on duty at the palace as an officer of the guard, been commanded at a moment's notice to join the imperial party in order to avoid there being thirteen at the table.
This superstition is perhaps partly due to the fact that the emperor is aware of the old Scandinavian custom, from which it originates, and which still subsists among the peasantry of the west coast of France. In the Pagan days of Scandinavia, the hardy Norsemen were accustomed at all their banquets to invite the spirit of the last of their male relatives or friends to participate in the feast, and the food that he would have eaten and the mead that he would have drunk was cast into the fire, the supposed resting-place of the soul. When the Norsemen embraced Christianity, on ceremonious occasions they sat down to the banquet in parties of twelve, doing this in honor of the twelve Apostles; but unable entirely to disassociate themselves from their old heathen custom of inviting the spirit of a dead relative or friend, they constituted him,—the spectre,—the thirteenth guest at table, and his health was always drunk in solemn silence. In course of time people came to forget the traditional custom of considering a spectre to be the thirteenth guest. He was, however, associated in their minds with the notion of death, and thus the belief has grown that though a thirteenth person at table is no longer a corpse, one of the party is destined, at any rate, to speedily become one.
Throughout Brittany on the eve of the day sacred to the memory of the dead "La Toussaint," the family all sit down to a festive repast, and there is invariably a place laid at table, the plate filled with the choicest viands, and the glass filled with the finest wine or cider, for the one or more members of the family who have died during the previous twelve months. The peasantry are convinced that the spirits of their dear ones take part in this repast at one time or another during the course of the night. It is for this reason that they consider it their duty to sit up till daybreak, the women chiefly praying, the men talking in undertones about the qualities and the characteristics of the mourned ones. Wearied with watching, imbued with the most fervent and devout faith, blended with a belief in old-time legends, what wonder is it that towards dawn both the men and the women, especially the latter, should imagine that they see the spirits of their dead glide into the room, take their place at the family board, and then, after a brief sojourn in their midst, vanish with the light of the breaking day. It is a pretty and a touching idea, which is not combated by the clergy, and of which, indeed, no one possessed of any heart would seek to disabuse the minds of the poor, simple-minded peasant folks.
Of course Emperor Francis-Joseph and Emperor William are imbued with all the old superstitions peculiar to Nimrods. As an instance, they will give up an entire day's shooting, no matter how elaborate the arrangements made for it, if a hare is seen to cross their path, for this is always looked upon as being a very bad omen.
Both emperors also attach much importance to dreams, and claim to have been furnished by them with premonitions of each misfortune that has overtaken them, and regard Friday as the most unlucky day of the week.
There is no colder, more unemotional and level-headed woman in the-world than the young Empress of Russia, who is a German princess by birth, and a first cousin of Emperor William, yet she too believes in dreams, since the following incident, which enjoys the fullest degree of credence on the part of the emperors of Germany and Austria. It seems that during the coronation festivities she was resting one afternoon, and had dropped off into a doze, when she suddenly found herself awakened by one of her ladies who had been frightened by the manner in which she moaned and even wailed in her sleep. The empress then related that her slumbers had been disturbed by a bad dream. An old gray-haired Moujik, or peasant, all covered with blood, had appeared to her, and had exclaimed:
"I have come all the way from Siberia, czaritza, to see your day of honor, and now your Cossacks have killed me."
The vision had been so real that the empress hastened to her husband to inquire if any misfortune had happened. Nicholas laughed at his wife's fears, but to soothe her, telephoned to the minister of the imperial household, asking whether anything untoward had occurred, and only then learnt of the terrible disaster that had taken place in connection with the open-air banquet, where over two thousand lives were lost, through a panic that had seized upon the vast concourse of people, the terrible catastrophe being aggravated by the unfortunate attempts of large bodies of mounted Cossacks to restore order by riding into the crowd and using their whips and even their swords against the terrified masses of penned-up Moujiks.
It must be borne in mind that the entire monarchial system of the old world is largely based on legend and superstition, and that a belief in the supernatural, therefore, is to be expected in such personages as the anointed of the Lord, who are firmly convinced that there is a considerable amount of the supernatural in their authority and in the origin of their power.
Another manner in which Emperor William displays his superstition, is his absolute refusal to permit any steps to be taken to clear up the mystery which has existed throughout this entire century in connection with the hunting chateau of Gruenewald, which, like the great palace at Berlin, is popularly believed to be haunted. Indeed, it is regarded with considerable misgiving by the peasantry of the surrounding district. It is an old castle, built almost two centuries ago, by the father of the first King of Prussia, and has been the scene of several tragedies.
The one which is supposed to have led to the haunting of the palace is the murder by one of the princes of the house of Hohenzollern, in a fit of passion, of a Prussian nobleman who was his guest at the time. The prince is reported to have run the nobleman through the back with his sword while following him down one of the staircases from the upper story to the ground floor.
Endeavors have repeatedly been made to obtain permission from the sovereign to tear down the brick wall so as to give access to this staircase, not only for the sake of convenience, but also with the object of setting at rest forever the popular superstitions and rumors on the subject. Neither King Frederick-William IV., nor the late Emperor William would ever hear of such a thing, and the late Emperor Frederick, who was the least superstitious and most matter-of-fact of men, grew grave and silent, when it was suggested to him that he should give the desired permission. As for the present emperor, he has sternly forbidden that the matter should even be mentioned in his presence. This extraordinary reluctance displayed by both the kaiser and his predecessors to discover what there is behind that brick wall leads to the conviction that the mouldering remains of the victim of the treacherous hospitality of a prince of Prussia lie concealed there.
It is among the crowned heads and princes of the blood in the Old World that St. Hubert, the patron of the chase, finds his most fervent devotees, and nowhere is his cult followed with a greater degree of pomp and ceremoniousness, and, I might almost add, religious sentiment, than at the Courts of Berlin and Vienna.
The foremost Nimrod of Europe is undoubtedly old Emperor Francis-Joseph, who finds his only relaxation from the cares of state in stalking the chamois, and who is celebrated in the annals of sport as the most successful and fearless hunter of that excessively shy and difficult quarry.
No man living possesses a larger collection of gemsbock beards, which constitute the hunter's trophy of this form of the chase. They number nearly three thousand, and the only person whose score at all approximates the emperor's is his intimate friend and crony, the aged King Albert of Saxony. Both monarchs are now old men, with hair, whiskers and moustache, of a snowy white, but neither their years, nor their sorrows, which have contributed so much towards aging them prematurely, have been permitted until now to interfere with their chamois-hunting expeditions in the Styrian Alps. On these occasions the two sovereigns make their headquarters at Francis-Joseph's picturesque shooting-lodge, or rather chateau, at Muerzsteg. They are usually accompanied by the emperor's eldest son-in-law, Prince Leopold of Bavaria, Archduke Francis-Ferdinand, heir apparent to the throne, some younger members of the imperial family, and a few of the dignitaries of the court who have been the longest attached to the service of his majesty, prominent among whom is Baron Gudemus, grand huntsman of the empire. The latter, by virtue of his office, holds a seat in the privy council, ranks higher than the cabinet ministers, has under his control all the game preserves, the hunting equipages, and the shooting lodges of the crown in the various parts of the empire, and is the generalissimo of the army of game-keepers, and jaegers, many thousands in number, who wear the livery of the house of Hapsburg.
Usually, the first three or four days of the stay at Muerzsteg are devoted to stalking the chamois, the two sovereigns generally remaining together, attended only by the grand huntsman, and by a few jaegers and guides, while the other members of the shooting party follow their individual devices. The start is made each morning about an hour before dawn, so as to enable the sportsmen to be well up on the mountain side by daybreak, that being the time when it is least difficult to get within range of a chamois.
All day long the two old sovereigns, Alpenstock in hand, and short, stocky rifles slung over the shoulder, go toiling up and down the mountains, along the edges of great precipices, tracing their steps along paths that to the uninitiated would seem to afford no foothold to any living thing, save a goat or a chamois. Sometimes they are overtaken by snowstorms while up in the mountains, and are unable to see their way, or to move either backwards or forwards, for whole hours together, while at other times they are forced to lie down flat on their stomachs and to cling with hand and foot to any friendly piece of projecting rock in order to avoid being blown down the precipices, or into the deep crevasses, by the terrible winds which without warning suddenly sweep through the Alpine gorges and valleys, with a force that can only be described as cyclonic.
All the party, emperor, king, princes, and attendants, down to the humblest jaeger, wear the same kind of Styrian dress, consisting of a sort of Yoppe, or Austrian jacket of grey homespun, with green collar and facings, and buttons of rough stag-horn, homespun breeches, cut off above the knees, which are left entirely uncovered, thick woollen stockings rolled below the knee, and heavy, hob-nailed, laced boots. The head gear is that known in this country as the Tyrolese hat, adorned by a chamois beard, which is inserted between the ribbon and the felt.
By nightfall, which comes early in the mountains, everybody is back at the "jagdschloss," and dinner is served at five, in a room panelled with wood and decorated with trophies. The emperor and the king sit next to each other, while Baron Gudemus, as grand huntsman, faces them on the opposite table. The attendants are not liveried footmen, but jaegers and game-keepers. On arising from the table the party as a rule descends into the courtyard, where all the game killed during the day is laid out on a layer of pine branches, the jaegers forming three sides of a square, lighting up the scene with great pine torches, while the huntsmen sound the curee-chaude on their hunting horns. By eight or nine o'clock, everybody is in bed, and the whole chateau is wrapped in slumber.
During the last three or four days of the stay, the so-called "Treibjagds," or "Battues" take the place of stalking. They are far more ceremonious, but infinitely less fatiguing and interesting affairs, and as they begin between eight and nine, and last till four, they do not involve getting out of bed at the unearthly hour of three or four in the morning. They necessitate, however, an enormous amount of preparation and organization on the part of the grand huntsman. For at least forty-eight hours previously, a vast corps of "treibers," or Styrian mountaineers engaged for the purpose have been employed in surrounding a district of mountain and valley many miles in area. The circle is gradually narrowed down until the whole of the game is driven from the heights into the valley, where the emperor and his guests have taken up their positions.
The selection of the positions of the party is regarded as a matter of the utmost importance, and on the evening before, the grand huntsman submits to the emperor a carefully drawn up plan of the locality. His majesty thereupon designates with his own hand the spot where each of his guests is to take up his position on the following morning. He himself and the King of Saxony generally await the game in the lowest part of the valley, the remaining guests and officials being spread up the mountain side on each hand according to their degree of rank and the imperial favor, those who enjoy the greatest share of the latter being the nearest to the sovereign down the valley, while those of less importance are posted higher up on the mountain side. By nine o'clock, every member of the party must be in the place assigned to him on the plan, and the beaters, who have kept the game carefully within the circle of their lines, now proceed to drive it down towards the shooting party.
Usually, great nets are stretched a hundred yards to the rear of the two monarchs, with the object of forcing the game which may have got past their majesties to retrace its steps, and to face the royal and imperial sportsmen once more.
Sometimes curious scenes result in connection with these nets. On one occasion a magnificent gemsbock had managed to get past the King of Saxony, and finding a net in the way, charged it full tilt with a flying leap. Its horns got entangled in the meshes, seven or eight feet high, and there it remained hanging and kicking until a couple of jaegers in attendance on the king disentangled it and carefully placed it on the ground. For a moment it stood as if transfixed with amazement, gazing steadfastly at the net, and then deliberately charged head down, and with a tremendous bound, at the obstacle once more, with the same result, of course. Again the jaegers disengaged it, but in its struggles to recover its liberty the gemsbock left its beard torn out by the very roots in the hand of one of the men who had grabbed it for the purpose of holding the animal fast. A third time the gallant buck charged the net, and cleared it in magnificent style and made good its escape. The beard which it left behind it figures to this day on the Alpine hat of King Albert, who is probably the only man living who can boast of wearing the beard of a chamois that may still be roaming over the Styrian Alps.
Emperor William's favorite form of sport is wild-boar hunting. This species of game abounds in the imperial preserves of Koenigs-Wusterhausen, Letzlingen, Gohrde and Springe, the latter being quite near to the ancient city of Hamelin, celebrated in legendary lore for its "pied-piper" and for its rats!
The preserves at Gohrde are liked best by the kaiser, as they were by his grandfather, the old emperor, for they are alive with wild boars. Persons invited for the first time to these imperial shooting parties have to go through a regular form of initiation, somewhat akin to that practised in the case of people crossing the line for the first time at sea.
On the eve of the day on which the hunt is to begin, and when the party are assembled in the smoking and card-rooms of the jagdschloss, after dinner, the great oak table in the dining-room is cleared and ornamented with several lines of chalk; thereupon, the deputy grand huntsman, Baron Heintze Weissenrode, after receiving the emperor's final instructions, selects a dozen members of the party, and conducts them to the dining-room, where they take their places around the table, each armed with a wooden spoon of a different size from those of his neighbors.
At a given signal the huntsman in charge of the imperial pack of boar-hounds, who has been stationed at the entrance leading into the dining-room, sounds the "view-halloo!" on his horn, and immediately every one of the wooden spoons is rubbed up and down the oaken table in a manner that produces a sound similar to that of the noise made by a pack in full pursuit. The person about to be initiated is then seized and blindfolded, after which the doors are thrown open, and he is carried into the dining-room, and laid upon the table athwart the chalk lines. The emperor immediately draws his short hunting-knife, and after making several mystic passes with it in the air, strikes the prostrate body of the neophyte a smart blow with the flat of the broad blade. The huntsman toots forth the signal of "dead! dead!" which is used to call the pack off the quarry, and the new-fledged "weide-man" is permitted to struggle off the table and onto the ground.
I may add that the emperor's blow with the hunting-knife is not the only one which the neophyte receives while stretched on the table on his face, nor does it constitute the sum total of the initiation, but only the conclusion thereof. Indeed, there is sometimes a good deal of rough horse-play on these occasions, in which the emperor, who delights therein, takes a prominent part.
The boar hunt on the following day partakes of the nature of the chamois drives already described, the only difference being that the beaters are assisted in their work by a carefully trained pack of boar-hounds, which are accustomed to obey the horn signals of the huntsman in charge, and are of much service in driving the quarry from its lair in the dense brush and underwood.
Another difference is that the shooting parties, instead of firing in the direction of the drivers, are under the strictest orders only to fire away from them; that is to say, the hunters are practically forced to wait until the wild boar rushes past before their rifles may be levelled. Of course, it sometimes happens that the boar, instead of charging past, charges directly at some member of the party in the fiercest and most dangerous manner, and it is in order to be prepared for an assault of this kind, that each of them is provided with a kind of pike, or lance, which goes by the euphonious name of "sowpen."
The costume worn on these occasions is an exceptionally hideous uniform, specially invented and devised by the present emperor. It consists of a double-breasted frock coat of grey cloth, with grass-green lapels and collar, green striped pantaloons, high boots, and a grey Tyrolese hat, with a wide green band. In the emperor's case it is further adorned by the ribbon and badge of a Hohenzollern family order known as that of the "White Hart."
At these shooting parties the emperor is accustomed to wind up the day with a most extraordinary kind of drink, of which he himself is very fond, and of which he insists upon everybody's partaking, assuring them that it will help them to sleep. It consists of the following ingredients: White beer, sugar, citron peel, ginger spices, the yolks of at least a dozen eggs, Rhine wine, Madeira, and old Santa Cruz rum. All this, after being thoroughly stirred, is placed on the fire and slowly heated, several large pats of butter being added to the concoction while it is warm.
It need scarcely be said that it requires a stomach as strong as that of the emperor to be able to absorb several glasses of such a drink before retiring, and it is asserted at the Court of Berlin that there are many of his subjects of high rank who feign illness when commanded to join the imperial hunting parties, solely because of the apprehensions they entertain of being called upon by the kaiser to drink this extraordinary brew.
For shooting wild-fowl, hares and other small game, William uses a very dainty and extremely light fowling-piece, specially constructed for him, which he raises to his shoulder with one hand, and with extraordinary rapidity takes a remarkably sure aim; but when it comes to hunting the wild boar, stag, elk, bear and big game in general, the killing of which requires a heavier gun, he is naturally forced to adopt other devices. His crippled left arm being useless to support the weapon, his body jaeger, specially trained for this particular duty, steps forward and offers either his arm or his shoulder for the support of his master's rifle. This, bien entendu, when his majesty is engaged in stalking. In cases where the chase takes the form of a "battue," a species of horizontal bar is affixed at right angles to the tree beside which the emperor stands, and it is on this support that the kaiser rests his gun when shooting at the driven game.
Handicapped as William is by this crippled arm, his record of 33,967 head of game killed with his own hand, during the past two decades, is a very remarkable one. It may be found in his "Game Book," published a few months ago for private circulation among the royal personages and court circles of the Old World.
Comprised in this grand total are some pieces which do not fall to the lot of every sportsman. Thus there are a couple of "aurochsen," which is a species of bison-like wild cattle, still to be found strictly preserved in the private domains of the Emperor of Russia. Unless I am mistaken, there are only about five hundred of them left, and, in spite of all the efforts made to foster the breed, they are so rapidly diminishing in number that ere many years are past they will surely become extinct. In pre-Christian times they roamed all over Germany, and were, and still are, larger, fiercer, and much lighter colored than the American buffalo.
The wild boars number in the "Game Book" over 2,700. There are eleven elks shot in Sweden, three reindeer killed in Norway, and ten bears laid low, some of them in Russia, and others in Hungary. The emperor has, much to his vexation, only managed to bag three unfortunate snipe, an extremely difficult bird to shoot on the wing; but his record of 120 chamois is decidedly good, when it is remembered what an exceedingly difficult game this is to reach, entailing, as it does, mountaineering of the most arduous and perilous character, especially in the case of a man who can use but one arm easily. These 120 chamois serve in a measure to atone for the twenty foxes which figure as having been shot by the emperor, a fact which is more likely to injure his reputation and prestige in the eyes of hunting men than any other fault or even crime of which he could possibly render himself guilty. The most unique item of this "Game Book," with the exception, naturally, of the two aurochsen, are assuredly the three whales which the emperor shot with a harpoon gun, on the occasion of his yachting trip to the furthermost portion of Norway a few summers ago. These three huge monsters of the deep form a fitting and amusing counterpart in the "Game Book" to the three snipe above mentioned.
Emperor William has a number of shooting-lodges, among the best known of which is Hubertusstock, of which he is particularly fond owing to its proximity to the capital. Yet it is hated by the members of his suite, for it is a terribly gloomy place. It stands in the midst of a dense, dark forest of vast extent, and swarming with game, within a few hundred yards of the reed covered and marshy shores of the Werbellin Lake, and was built by the late King Frederick-William IV. During the last few years of his madness this monarch was frequently taken out to Hubertusstock by his attendants, who hoped that the entire absence of all excitement and the intense solitude of the place would diminish the recurrences of his attacks of violence.
The emperor sometimes spends an entire week at Hubertusstock and it has frequently been asserted that he takes advantage of the complete absence from public observation which he then enjoys, to make secret trips abroad. It was his absence at this place for a period of ten days while the czar was at Paris that led to the very circumstantial story in the German and foreign press about his having been in the French capital, in the strictest incognito, for several days during the Russian emperor's stay on the banks of the Seine. A number of people claim to have recognized him, and it is even alleged that he caught the czar's eye, and was recognized by him during the grand entertainment given by President Faure in honor of his Muscovite visitors at the Palace of Versailles.
A story was told at the time about a couple of German officers, one of them attached to the embassy, who happening to find themselves face to face with an individual presenting a striking likeness to the kaiser, save for the fact that his moustache was twisted downwards instead of upwards, and his hair brushed in a different way, lost to such an extent their presence of mind that they could not help drawing their heels together and standing at attention; a form of courtesy which received as its only response the muttered exclamation of "Verdammte Esel!" which may be translated: "Accursed jackasses!"
That served to confirm their suspicions, and unfortunately both their behavior and the growl of the stranger had been witnessed and heard by people who were quick to make the matter public.
It was with the object of endeavoring to disprove and discredit these stories that the emperor caused a telegram, to be sent to the czar from Hubertusstock, not written, as usual, in cipher, but in ordinary language. There is an old French proverb according to which "he who seeks to prove too much, proves nothing," and thus it happened that this open telegram which reached the czar at Chalons, and which was published in the German newspapers, even before Nicholas had made it known to the members of his entourage, merely served to convince people that the kaiser had really been in Paris when he was supposed to be buried amidst the gloomy forests of Hubertusstock.
Hubertusstock is not, as most people seem to imagine, a castle, but merely a huge, overgrown two-storied chalet, surrounded by a number of smaller wooden dwelling-houses for the use of the imperial suite. Formerly, it required a drive of at least three hours from the station on the main line in order to reach the jagdschloss. But since the accession of the emperor he has caused a private railroad to be constructed from the trunk line to a small station within a few hundred yards of the chalet.
Seldom is the kaiser found in the schloss after daybreak. The entire morning is spent by him in the woods, which are so vast that one can wander about them for days without meeting a soul. Luncheon is usually partaken of at some point in the forest, and frequently during this repast a concert takes place, the performers consisting of a quartette of foresters, their instruments being mere hunting horns, and their melodies those of old hunting-songs. Within the limits of the imperial preserves is the celebrated Schorfhaide, which each year, towards the month of November, becomes the meeting place of thousands of stags. They come from all parts of Germany and Austria, this being rendered possible by the proximity to one another of the great estates of the territorial nobility, so that it would be feasible to march almost from the Adriatic to the Baltic without leaving forest glades. This annual assemblage of stags on the Schorfhaide has been taking place every autumn for untold centuries. In fact, mention thereof has been found in documents more than a thousand years old. The meetings afford an extraordinary sight, and are the scenes of numerous single combats to death between "Royals," the other stags and the deer standing round, as if to form a huge amphitheatre, and gravely watching the duel without making any attempt to interfere.
All sorts of theories have been put forward with regard to this annual concourse of stags on the Schorfhaide. Foresters, however, insist that it is nothing more nor less than a species of great animal congress, at which the various antlered tribes meet for a big "palaver" to decide matters affecting the policy and the leadership of their various clans! Far-fetched as this theory may seem at first sight, it is evident that there is something of the kind which brings stags and their mates from the remote forests of Galicia on the Russian border, from the vast Liechtenstein game preserves to the South of Vienna, and from the still larger sporting property of Belyer, in Hungary, belonging to Archduke Frederick, all the way to the Schorfhaide on the reedy banks of the Werbellin Lake, in order to flock together by thousands.
It is a matter of forest ethics, and of the law of the chase, to abstain from disturbing this annual convivium of the stags, as it is called, and while it lasts, not a single shot is to be heard in the forests around Hubertusstock. In fact, November has on this account become a species of close season there, no one interested in sport wishing to do anything that could in the least degree interfere with this, so far as I know, altogether unique custom in the animal world. The meetings, however, have been witnessed by the emperor and a few chosen companions who concealed themselves in the branches of trees, bordering on the Schorfhaide, and William is never tired of expatiating on the magnificence of the spectacle presented.
Next to Hubertusstock, the most favored shooting-lodge and sporting-estate of the kaiser, is Rominten, not far from the Russian frontier. Owing to this proximity, bears and wolves, especially the latter, of Muscovite origin, are frequently to be found in the Rominten forests, adjoining which is the celebrated imperial Trakenen stud and horsebreeding establishment, founded as far back as 1732 by Frederick the Great. Some idea of the size and importance of this stud-farm may be gathered from the fact that over two thousand hands are employed in connection with the concern. Trakenen was originally famous for elk, and an elk's horn remains to this day the Trakenen brand placed upon all horses bred there. The emperor's headquarters at Rominten are situated at a place called Theerbude. His jagdschloss or shooting-lodge consists of a handsome Norwegian block house, brought from Norway, and erected on the Goldberg on the left bank of the Rominten River. The stables are built on a most extensive scale, and the chapel, as well as all the other buildings, are constructed in the picturesque Norwegian style, which harmonizes so well with the dark fir forests by which they are surrounded.
There is no interruption of the business of slate during the emperor's stay at Rominten. Theerbude is connected with Berlin by wire, and telegrams are arriving and departing at all hours of the day.
The kaiser shoots as a rule twice a day, at four in the morning, and four in the afternoon, the drive to the hunting-grounds often taking several hours, for most of them are at a considerable distance. The various foresters' lodges, even at the most remote portion of the estates, are connected by telephone with the imperial residence, and thus the emperor is able to know at midday where the game is likely to be most plentiful in the afternoon.
When the emperor is not shooting, he transacts business with his various military and civil secretaries, and long after his guests are asleep he himself is still at work, signing state papers or reading and annotating reports. Indeed one of the most remarkable things about Emperor William is his apparent ability to do almost entirely without sleep.
On Sundays the emperor invariably makes a point of attending divine service at the Chapel of St. Hubert, opposite his residence, and subsequently is accustomed to walk to the Koenigshoehe, a neighboring hill on which he has built an observatory-tower about one hundred feet high, which commands a magnificent view of the surrounding forest, extending about twenty miles in every direction from the tower. Curiously enough, wild boars are not found at Rominten; but the stags there are superb, and specimens turning the scales at a thousand pounds are the rule rather than the exception.
One of the features of the Theerbude is a goblet of the time of King Frederick-William III. The vessel is held between the points of a couple of antlers, and it is only possible to drink out of it by squeezing one's face between these two points. The possessor of a rotund countenance experiences considerable difficulty in performing this feat, and is apt to spill the contents over himself, yet every one of the emperor's guests has to submit to the ordeal, for an inscription on the goblet says that all persons attending shooting-parties at Rominten for the first time must empty the vessel of its contents,—a pint bottle of champagne,—at one draught, to the health of the sovereign.
So great are the quantities of game shot by the emperor and his guests at these shooting-parties that they very much exceed the needs for the consumption of the imperial household. Formerly, it was the kaiser's custom to distribute all the surplus among the various hospitals and charitable institutions; but since discovering that these gifts of game seldom reached the persons for whom they were destined, namely the inmates, but were monopolized by the staff and the attendants of the establishments, he has given orders that the game that is not needed for imperial consumption should be sold, and the money derived therefrom turned over to the funds of the hospitals and convalescent homes under the patronage of the crown. That is why one so frequently sees in the great Central Market of Berlin, deer, stags, wild boars, etc., adorned with greenery, and with cards intimating that the quarry in question has been shot by his imperial majesty the kaiser.
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
WILLIAM II AND FRANCIS JOSEPH
WILLIAM II, EMPEROR OF GERMANY........... Fronts
PRINCESS FREDERICK AND PROFESSOR VON BERGMANN............. 80
THE RUNAWAY AT PROECKELWITZ............................... 104
SCENE IN DUKE ERNEST GUNTHER'S QUARTERS................... 136
AUGUSTA VICTORIA, EMPRESS OF GERMANY...................... 192
IN THE WHITE HALL......................................... 256