MoboReader > Literature > Old Fritz and the New Era

   Chapter 1 THE LONELY KING.

Old Fritz and the New Era By L. Muhlbach Characters: 17017

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:02


"Well, so let it be!" said the king, sighing, as he rose from his arm-chair; "I must go forth to the strife, and these old limbs must again submit to the fatigue of war. But what matters it? The life of princes is passed in the fulfilment of duties and responsibilities, and rarely is it gladdened with the sunny rays of joy and peace! Let us submit!

"Yes, let us submit!" repeated the king, thoughtfully, slowly pacing his cabinet back and forth, his hands folded upon his staff behind him, and his favorite dog, Alkmene, sleepily following him.

It was a melancholy picture to see this bowed-down old man; his thin, pale face shaded by a worn-out, three-cornered hat, his dirty uniform strewn with snuff; and his meagre legs encased in high-topped, unpolished boots; his only companion a greyhound, old and joyless as his master. Neither the bust of Voltaire, with its beaming, intelligent face, nor those of his friends, Lord-Marshal Keith and the Marquis d'Argens, could win an affectionate glance from the lonely old king. He whom Europe distinguished as the Great Frederick, whom his subjects called their "father and benefactor," whose name was worthy to shine among the brightest stars of heaven, his pale, thin lips just murmured, "Resignation!"

With downcast eyes he paced his cabinet, murmuring, "Let us submit!" He would not look up to those who were gazing down upon him from the walls-to those who were no more. The remembrance of them unnerved him, and filled his heart with grief. The experiences of life, and the ingratitude of men, had left many a scar upon this royal heart, but had never hardened it; it was still overflowing with tender sympathy and cherished memories. To Lord-Marshal Keith, Marquis d'Argens, and Voltaire, Frederick owed the happiest years of his life.

D'Argens, who passionately loved Frederick, had been dead five years; Lord-Marshal Keith one month; and Voltaire was dying! This intelligence the king had received that very morning, from his Paris correspondent, Grimm. It was this that filled his heart with mourning. The face, that smiled so full of intelligence, was perhaps distorted with agony, and those beaming eyes were now closing in death!

Voltaire was dying!

Frederick's thoughts were with the dead and dying-with the past! He recalled, when crown prince at Rheinsberg, how much he had admired, loved, and distinguished Voltaire; how he rejoiced, and how honored he felt, when, as a young king, Voltaire yielded to his request to live with him at Berlin. This intimacy, it is true, did not long continue; the king was forced to recognize, with bitter regret, that the MAN Voltaire was not worthy the love which he bestowed upon the POET. He renounced the MAN, but the poet was still his admiration; and all the perfidy, slander and malice of Voltaire, had never changed Frederick. The remembrance of it had long since faded from his noble heart-only the memory of the poet, of the author of so many hours of the purest enjoyment, remained.

Voltaire was dying!

This great and powerful spirit, who so long a time, in the natural body, had instructed, inspired, and refreshed mankind, would leave that body to rise-whither?

"Immortality, what art thou?" asked the king, aloud, and for the first time raising his eyes with an inquiring glance to the busts of his friends. "I have sought for thee, I have toiled for thee, my whole life long! Neither the researches of the learned, nor the subtleties of philosophy reveal thee to me. Is there any other immortality than fame? Any other eternal life than that which the memory of succeeding generations grants to the dead?" In this tone of thought Frederick recited, audibly, the conclusion of a poem, which he had addressed to D'Alembert:

"I have consecrated my days to philosophy, I admit all the innocent pleasures of life; And knowing that soon my course will finish, I enjoy the present with fear of the future. What is there to fear after death? If the body and the mind suffer the same fate, I shall return and mingle with nature; If a remnant of my intellectual fire escapes death, I will flee to the arms of my God." [Footnote: Posthumous works, vol. vii., p.88.]

"And may this soon be granted me!" continued the king; "then I shall be reunited to those loved ones-gone before. I must be content to tarry awhile in this earthly vale of sorrow, and finish the task assigned me by the Great Teacher; therefore, let us submit."

He sighed; pacing to and fro, his steps were arrested at a side-table, where lay a long black velvet box; it contained the flute that his beloved teacher, Quantz, had made for him. Frederick had always kept it in his cabinet as a memento of his lost friend; as this room he had devoted to a temple of Memory-of the past!

"Another of the joys, another of the stars of my life vanished!" murmured the king. "My charming concerts are at an end! Quantz, Brenda, and my glorious Graun are no more. While they are listening to the heavenly choir, I must be content with the miserable, idle chatter of men; the thunder of battle deafening my ears, to which that mad, ambitious Emperor of Austria hopes to force me!"

As the king thus soliloquized, he involuntarily drew from the box the beautiful ebony flute, exquisitely ornamented with silver. A smile played around his delicate mouth. He raised the flute to his lips, and a melancholy strain floated through the stillness-the king's requiem to the dead, his farewell to the dying!

No sound of the outer world penetrated that lonely room. The guard of honor, on duty upon the Sans-Souci terrace, halted suddenly, as the sad music fell upon his ear. The fresh spring breeze swept through the trees, and drove the laden-blossomed elder-bushes tapping against the windowpanes, as if to offer a May-greeting to the lonely king. The servant in waiting stole on tiptoe to the door of the anteroom, listening breathlessly at the key-hole to the moving melody.

Even Alkmene suddenly raised her head as if something unusual were taking place, fixed her great eyes upon her master, jumping upon his knee, and resting her fore-paws lovingly upon his breast.

Frederick neither observed nor felt the movement of his favorite; his thoughts were absent from the present-absent from the earth! They were wandering in the unknown future, with the spirits of those he longed to see again in the Elysian fields.

The wailing music of his flute expressed the lamentation of his soul, and his eyes filled with tears as he raised them to the bust of Voltaire, gazing at it with a look of pain until the melody was finished. Then abruptly turning, half unwillingly, half angrily, he returned the flute to the box, and stole away, covering his face with his hands, as if to hide his emotion from himself.

"Now we have finished with the dead, and the living claim our thoughts," sighed the king. "What an absurd thing is the human heart! It will never grow cold or old; always pretending to a spark of the fire which that shameful fellow Prometheus stole from the gods. What an absurdity! What have I, an old fellow, to do with the fire of Prometheus, when the fire of war will soon rage around me," At this instant the door gently opened. "What do you want, Muller? What do you poke your stupid face in here for?" said the king.

"Pardon me, your majesty," replied the footman, "the Baron von Arnim begs for an audience."

"Bid him enter," commanded the king, sinking back in his old, faded velvet arm-chair. Resting his chin upon his staff, he signed to the baron, who stood bowing upon the threshold, to approach. "Well, Arnim, what is the matter? What papers have you there?"

"Sire," answered Baron von Arnim, "the contract of the French actors, which needs renewing, I have to lay before your majesty; also a paper, received yesterday, from Madame Mara; still another from the singer Conciliani, and a petition from four persons from the opera."

"What stupid stuff!" growled the king, at the same time bestowing a caress upon Alkmene. "Commence with your report. Let us hear what those singers are now asking for."

"The singer Conciliani has addressed a heart-breaking letter to your majesty, and prays for an increase of salary-that it is impossible for him to live upon three thousand dollars."

"Ah! that is what is wanted?" cried the king, furious, and striking his staff upon the floor. "The fellow is mad; When he cannot live upon three thousand, he will not be able to live up

on four. I want money for cannon. I cannot spend it for such nonsense. I am surprised, Von Arnim that you repeat such stuff to me."

"Your majesty, it is my duty that I-"

"What! Your duty is not to flatter them. I pay them to give me pleasure, not presumption. Remember, once for all, do not flatter them. Conciliani will get no increase of salary. If he persists, let him go to the mischief! This is my decision.-Proceed! What is Madame Mara begging for?"

"Madame Mara constantly refuses to sing the airs which your majesty commanded to be introduced into the opera of 'Coriolanus.' She has taken the liberty to address you in writing; here is the letter, if your majesty will have the grace to read it."

"By no means, sir, by no means!" cried the king; at the same instant catching the paper with his staff, he slung it like a shot arrow to the farthest corner of the room, to the great amusement of Alkmene, who, with a loud bark, sprang from her master's knee, and with a bound caught the strange bird, and tore it in pieces. "You are right, my pet," said the king, laughing, "you have written my answer with your nose to this arrogant person. Director, say to Madame Mara that I pay her to sing, not to write. She must sing both airs, or she may find herself at Spandau for her obstinacy, where her husband is, for the same reason. She can reflect, and judge for herself."

The director could scarcely repress a sigh, foreboding the disagreeable scene that he would have to encounter with the proud and passionate singer. Timidly Von Arnim alluded to the four persons from the opera. "Who are these demoiselles, and what do they want?" asked the king.

"Sire," replied the Baron von Arnim, "they are the four persons who personate the role of court ladies and maids of honor to the queens and princesses. They beg your majesty to secure to them a fixed income."

"Indeed! Go to my writing-table and bring paper and pencil; I will dictate a reply to them," said the king. "Now write, Von Arnim: 'To the four court ladies and maids of honor of the opera: You are mistaken in addressing yourselves to me; the affair of your salaries concerns YOUR emperors and kings. To them you must address yourselves.-Adieu.'"

Von Arnim could scarcely repress a smile.

"Now we come to the last affair-the salaries and pensions of the French actors," said the king; "but first tell me the news in Berlin-what report has trumpeted forth in the last few days."

"Your majesty, the latest news in Berlin, which rumor brings home to every hearth-side and every heart is, that your majesty has declared war with Austria on account of the Bavarian succession. Every one rejoices, sire, that you will humble that proud and supercilious house of Austria, and enter the lists for Germany."

"Listen!" answered the king, sternly. "I did not ask you to blow the trumpet of praise, as if your honor, inspector of the theatres, thought yourself upon the stage, and would commence a comedy with the king of lamps. So it is known then that my soldiers will enter the great theatre of war, and that we are about to fight real battles."

"It is known, sire," replied Von Arnim, bowing.

"Then what I am about to communicate to you will not surprise you. The present juncture of affairs leads us to await very grave scenes-we can well dispense with comedy. I withdraw the salaries and pensions of the French actors-your own is included. After you have dismissed the French comedians, you will be entirely at leisure to pursue your love-intrigues.-Farewell!"

"Your majesty," cried the baron, amazed, "has your highness dismissed me?"

"Are you deaf, or have you some of the cotton in your ears which I presented to you at your recall from Copenhagen?" replied the king. [Footnote: Baron von Arnim was ambassador to Copenhagen until 1754, when he begged for his recall, stating that the damp climate was injurious to his health. The king granted his request, and the baron returned to Berlin. At the first audience with the king, Frederick handed Baron von Arnim a carefully-packed box, saying, "I do not wish the government to lose so valuable a servant; in this box you will find something that will keep you warm." Arnim could scarcely await his return home, to open the box; it contained nothing but cotton. Some days afterward, however, the king increased Von Arnim's income a thousand dollars, and sent him ambassador to Dresden. Von Arnim was afterward director of the Royal Theatre until dismissed in the above manner.]

"Sire, I have heard all, but I cannot believe it."

"Yes, yes," interrupted the king, "To believe is difficult; you, I presume, never belonged to the pious and believing. Your intrigues would not admit of it; but now you have the leisure to pursue them with a right good-will. You have only to discharge, as I have said, the entire French troupe, and the whole thing is done with.-Adieu, Arnim, may you be prospered!"

Baron von Arnim muttered some incomprehensible words, and retreated from the royal presence. The door had scarcely closed, when it was again opened without ceremony by a young man, wearing a gold-laced dress.

"Your majesty," said he, hastily, in an undertone, "your majesty, she has just gone to the Palace Park, just the same hour she went yesterday."

"Is she alone?" asked the king, rising.

"No, she is not alone; at a little distance the nurse follows with the princely infant!"

The king cast an angry glance at the saucy, laughing face of the young man, who at once assumed a devoted, earnest mien. "Has your majesty any further commands?" asked he, timidly.

"I command you to hold your tongue until you are spoken to!" replied the king, harshly. "You understand spying and hanging about, as you have good ears, a quick eye, and a keen scent. I therefore make use of you, because I need a spy; but, understand that a fellow who allows himself to be used as a spy, is, indeed, a useful subject, but generally a worthless one, and to whom it is becoming to be modest and humble. I am now going to Berlin; you will accompany me. Take off your finery, so that every one may not recognize at once the peacock by his feathers. Go to the taverns and listen to what they say about the war; whether the people are much dissatisfied about it. Keep your great ears wide open, and bring me this evening all the latest news. Go, now, tell my coachman to be ready; in half an hour I shall set off."

The young man slunk away to the door, but stood without opening it, his head down, and his under-lip hanging out.

"What is the matter?" asked the king, in a milder tone, "why do you not go, Kretzschmar?"

"I cannot go away if your majesty is angry with me," muttered the servant, insolently. "I do not wish to hear or see any thing more for you when your majesty abuses me, and considers me such a mean, base fellow. Your majesty first commanded me to listen, and spy, and now that I am obeying, I am despised and scolded for it. I will have nothing more to do with it, and I wish your majesty to leave me a simple footman rather than to accord me such a mean position."

"I did not mean so badly," said the king. "I mean well enough for you; but you must not permit yourself to be arrogant or disrespectful, otherwise you may go to Tophet! You are no common spy, you are listening about a little because you know I am fond of hearing what the people are saying, and what is going on in Berlin and Potsdam. But take care that they know nothing about it, otherwise they will be careful, and you will hear nothing. Now be off, and in order to see a cheerful face on you, I will make you a present." The king drew from his vest-pocket a purse, well filled with small coin, and gave it to the young man, who took it, though he still looked angry and insolent. "Do not let your under-lip hang down so, for I may step upon it," said the king. "Put the money in your pocket, and hurry off to tell old Pfund to harness quickly, or I shall not arrive in time at the park."

"There is no danger, your majesty, for the miss seems very fond of the promenade; she remained two hours in the park yesterday, always walking in the most quiet places, as if she were afraid to meet any one. She sat a whole hour on the iron seat by the Carp Pond, and then she went to the Philosopher's Walk, and skipped about like a young colt."

"You are a very cunning fellow, and know how to use your eyes well," said the king. "Now be off, and order the carriage."

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares