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Old Fritz and the New Era By L. Muhlbach Characters: 22723

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:02

The Palace Park was as quiet and deserted as usual. Not a voice, not a sound, disturbed the stillness of those silent walks. For this reason, undoubtedly, a young lady had sought it; at least her whole being expressed satisfaction and delight to wander unobserved through those quiet, shady alleys. She was of slight and elegant proportions, simply attired, without pretension, in a dark dress of some thin silk material. Her black silk mantle was thrown aside upon the stone seat near her, uncovering thus, in solitude, to the sun and birds, her lovely neck and arms, the beauty of which might rival the statues of the ancients. Her face was not of regular beauty, yet it possessed that expression of grace, spirit, and energy, which is oftener a more powerful and more enduring charm than regular beauty. Her large, expressive black eyes possessed a wonderful power, and her red, pouting lips wore a sweet smile; her fine Roman nose lent an air of decision, whilst her high-arched forehead led one to believe that daring, energetic thought lay hidden beneath those clusters of brown curls. She was not in the bloom of youth, but at twenty-five she appeared younger than many beauties at eighteen; and if her form no longer possessed the charm of girlhood, it was attractive from its suppleness and full, beautiful bust.

"Louisa, Louisa, where are you?" cried the young lady, stepping quickly forward toward a side-path, which led from the broad avenue, and at the end of which was a sunny grassplot.

"Here I am, miss; I am coming."

"Miss," murmured the young lady, "how dreadfully it sounds! The blush of shame rises to my face, for it sounds like bitter mockery and contempt, and brings my whole life before me. Yet, I must endure it-and I scarcely wish it were otherwise. Ah, there you are, Louisa, and there is my beautiful boy," she cried, with a glad voice, hastening toward the peasant-woman and bending fondly over her child. "How beautiful and how knowing he looks! It seems as if my little Alexander began to recognize me-he looks so earnest and sensible."

"He knows you, miss," said the nurse, courtesying, "and he knows, like other children, who loves him. Children and dogs know who love them. The children cry, and the dogs hide themselves when people are around who dislike them."

"Nonsense, Louisa!" laughed the young lady, as she bent to kiss her child-"nonsense! did not my little boy cry when his father took him yesterday? And he loves his child most tenderly, as only a father can."

"Oh, there is another reason for that," said the nurse. "He has just passed his first stupid three months, and he begins to hear and see what passes around him, and it was the first man's face that he had seen. But only look, miss, what a beautiful little dog is coming up the path." It was indeed a lovely greyhound, of the small Italian race, which came bounding joyfully toward them, and as he saw the woman barked loudly.

"Be quiet, Alkmene, be quiet!" cried a loud, commanding voice.

"Oh, Heaven! it is the king!" whispered the young lady, turning pale, and, as if stunned, retreated a few steps.

"Yes, it is really the king," cried the nurse, "and he is coming directly from the grass-plot here."

"Let us go as quickly as possible, Louisa. Come, come," and she hastily threw her mantle around her, drawing the hood over her curly head. She had only proceeded a few steps, when a loud voice bade her to remain-to stand still. She stood as if rooted to the spot, leaning upon her nurse for support; her knees sank under her, and it seemed as if the whole world turned around with her. After the first tumult of anxiety and fear, succeeded an insolent determination, and, forcing herself to calmness, she said: "It is the turning-point of my life; the next few minutes will either crush me or assure my future; let me struggle for the future, then. I will face him who approaches me as my judge." Forcing herself to composure, slowly and with effort she turned toward the king, who, approaching by the side path, had entered the avenue, and now stood before her. But as she encountered the fiery glance of the king's eye, she quailed before it, casting down her own, covered with confusion.

"Who are you?" demanded the king, with stern authority, keeping his eagle eye fixed upon her. Silent and immovable she stood; only the quick, feverish breathing and the heaving bosom told the storm that was raging within.

"Who are you?" repeated the voice, with still more severity-"who permit themselves to use my park as a nursery? What child is that? and who are its parents? They should be of high position at court, who would dare to send their child and nurse to the royal park; and with what joy they must regard the offspring of their conjugal tenderness! Tell me to whom does this child belong?"

Sobbing convulsively, the lady sank, kneeling, with uplifted arms, imploring for mercy. "Sire, annihilate me with your anger, but do not crush me with your scorn!"

"What language do you permit yourself to hold?" asked the king.

"Sire, it is the language of an unhappy, despairing woman, who knows that she stands before that great monarch whose judgment she fears more than that of her God, who sees into her heart, and reads the tortures and reproaches of her conscience; who knows what she suffers, and knows, also, that she is free from self-interest, and every base desire. I believe that God will forgive what I fear your majesty will not."

"You speak presumptuously, and remind me of the theatre princesses who represent a grand scene with a pathetic exit. Let me inform you, I despise comedians-only high tragedy pleases me. Spare yourself the trouble to act before me, but answer me-who are you? Whose child is that?"

"Sire, only God and my king should hear my reply-I beg the favor to send away the nurse and child." The king assented, slightly nodding his head, at the same time bidding her not to kneel to him as to an image.

The lady rose and sought the nurse, who, from fright, had withdrawn into the shrubbery, and stood staring at the king with wide-open eyes. "Go home, Louisa, and put the child to sleep," said she, quickly.

The nurse obeyed promptly, and when alone, the king demanded again, "Who are you? and to whom does the child belong?"

"Your majesty, I am the daughter of your chapel musician Enke, and the child is the son of Prince Frederick William of Prussia," she replied, in a firm and defiant manner.

The king's eyes flashed as he glanced at the bold speaker. "You say so, but who vouches for the truth of it? You permit yourself to use a high name, to give your child an honorable father! What temerity! what presumption! What if I should not believe you, but send you to the house of correction, at Spandau, as a slanderer, as guilty of high-treason, as a sinner and an adulteress?"

"You could not do it, sire-you could not," cried Wilhelmine Enke, "for you would also send there the honor and the name of your successor to the throne."

"What do you mean?" cried the king, furiously.

"I mean, your majesty, that the prince has holy duties toward me. I am the mother of that child!"

"You acknowledge your shame, and you dare confess it to me, your king, that you are the favorite, the kept mistress of the Prince of Prussia, who has already a wife that has borne him children? You do not even seek to deny it, or to excuse yourself?"

"I would try to excuse myself, did I not feel that your majesty would not listen to me."

"What excuse could you offer?-there is none."

"Love is my excuse," cried Wilhelmine, eagerly. "Oh! my ruler and king, do not shake your noble head so unbelievingly; do not look at me so contemptuously. Oh, Father in heaven, I implore Thee to quicken my mind, that my thoughts may become words, and my lips utter that which is burning in my soul! In all these years of my poor, despised, obscure life, how often have I longed for this hour when I might stand before my king, when I might penitently clasp his knees and implore mercy for myself and my children-those poor, nameless beings, whose existence is my accusation, and yet who are the pride and joy of my life! Oh, sire, I will not accuse, to excuse myself; I will not cast the stone at others which they have cast at me. But it is scarcely charitable to judge and condemn a young girl fourteen years of age, who did but obey the command of her parents, and followed the man who was the first and only one that ever whispered the word of love in her ear."

"I have heard that your parents sold their child to shame. Is it true?" cried the king.

"Sire, my father was poor; the scanty income of a chapel musician scarcely sufficed to educate and support four children. The prince promised my father to educate me."

"Bah! The promises of a young man of twenty-five are made without reflection, and rarely ever fulfilled."

"Sire, to the Prince of Prussia I owe all that I know, and all that I am; his promise to my dying father was fully redeemed."

"Indeed, by whom were you taught, and what have you learned?"

"Your majesty, the prince wished, before all, that I should learn to speak French. Madame Girard was my French instructress, and taught me to play the guitar and spinet also."

"Oh, I presume you have learned to jabber a little French and drum a little music," said the king, shrugging his shoulders.

"I beg pardon, sire; I have a tolerable knowledge of history and of geography. I am familiar with the ancient and modern poets. I have read a good French translation of Homer, Horace, and Virgil, with a master. I have studied the history of Brandenburg, of Germany, and of America. We have read the immortal works of Voltaire, of Jean Jacques Rousseau, and of Shakespeare, with many of our modern poets. My instructor has read all these works aloud to me, and he was much pleased when I repeated parts of what he had read to me some days afterward."

"You appear to have had a very learned instructor," remarked the king, sneeringly. "What is his name?"

"His name, sire, is Prince Frederick William of Prussia. Yes, it is he who has taught me-he who has made me an intelligent woman. However young he was when he undertook the task, he has accomplished it with fidelity, firmness, and patience. He loved me, and would make me worthy of him, in heart and mind. I shall ever be grateful to him, and only death can extinguish the love and esteem with which he in spires me."

"Suppose I command you to leave the prince? Suppose I will no longer endure the scandal of this sinful relation?"

"I shall never willingly separate myself from my dear prince and master-from the father of my two children. Your majesty will be obliged to force me from him," answered Wilhelmine, defiantly.

"Oh, that will not be necessary, mademoiselle," cried the king. "There are ways enough. I will make known my wishes to the prince; I will command him to leave you, and have no further communication with you."

"Sire," she answered, gently, "I know that the prince is an obedient and respectful subject and servant to his king in all things, but this command he would not obey."

"He would not dare to brave my commands!"

"He would not brave them, sire. Oh, no; it would be simply impossible to obey them."

"What would hinder him?"

"Love, sire; the respect which he owes to me as the mother of his two children-who has consecrated her love, her honor to him, and of whom no one can say that she has injured the fidelity which she has sworn to the prince-to the man of her first and only love-even with a word or look."

"You mean to say, that I cannot separate you from the prince but by force?"

"Yes, your majesty," cried she, with conscious power, "that is exactly what I mean."

"You will find yourself deceived; you will be made to realize it," said the king, with a menacing tone. "You know nothing of the power that lies in a legitimate marriage, and what rivals legitimate children are, whom one dares acknowledge before God-before the world. Boast not of the love of the prince, but remember that an honorable solitude is the only situation becoming to you. Such connections bear their own curse and punishment with them. Hasten to avoid them. Lastly, I would add, never dare to mingle your impure hands in the affairs of state. I have been obliged to give the order to the state councillors in appointments and grants of office, not to regard the protection and recommendation of a certain high personage, as you are the real protectress and bestower of mercy. Take care, and never let it happen again. You will never venture to play the little Pompadour here, nor anything else but what your dishonor allows you; otherwise you will have to deal with me! You say that you have read Homer; then, doubtless, you remember the story of Penelope, who, from conjugal fidelity, spun and wove, undoing at night what she had woven by day. It is true, you bear little resemblance to this chaste dame, but you might emulate her in spinning and weaving; and if you are not in future retiring, I can easily make a modern Penelope of you, and have you instructed in spinning, for which you will have the best of opportunities in the house of correction at Spandau. Remember this, and never permit yourself to practise protection. I will keep the spinning-wheel and the wool ready for you; that you may count upon. Remember, also, that it is very disagreeable to me that you visit my park, as I like to breathe pure air. Direct your promenade elsewhere, and avoid meeting me in future."

"Your majesty, I-"

"Silence! I have heard sufficient. You have nothing more to say to me. Go, hide your head, that no one may recognize your shame, or the levity of the prince. Go-and, farewell forever!" He motioned impatiently to her to retire, fastening his eyes with a fiery, penetrating glance upon her pale, agitated face, her bowed, humble attitude, and still continued to regard her as she painfully dragged herself down the walk, as if her limbs were giving way under her. Long stood the king gazing after her, resting upon his staff; and as she disappeared at the end of the walk, he still stood there immovable. By degrees his face assumed a milder expression. "He who is free from sin, let him cast the first stone at her," said the king, softened, as he slowly turned down the path which would lead to his carriage, waiting outside the park.

Frederick was lost in thought, and addressed no conversation to the equerry, Von Schwerin, who sat opposite to him. But as they drove through the beautiful street Unten den Linden, at Berlin, Frederick glanced at the equerry, and found that he had fallen asleep, wearied with the long silence and the monotony of the drive. The king spoke to Alkmene, loud and earnestly, until Herr von Schwerin, awakened and startled, glanced at the king, frightened, and trying to discover whether his fearful crime against etiquette would draw upon him the royal censure. Frederick, however, appeared not to notice his fright, and spoke kindly to him: "Did you not tell me, Schwerin, that Count Schmettau would sell his country residence at Charlottenburg?"

"At your service, your majesty, he asked me to purchase it, or find him a purchaser."

"How much is it worth?"

"Sire, Count Schmettau demands eight thousand dollars for it. There is a beautiful park belonging to it, and the house is worthy the name of a castle, so large is it."

"Why do you not buy it, if the count offered it to you?"

The equerry assumed a sad mien, and answered, sighing: "Sire, I should be the happiest of men if I could buy that charming residence, and it would be a real blessing to me if I could enjoy in summer at times the fresh air. My finances unfortunately, do not allow such expenses, as I am not rich, and have a large family."

"Then you are right not to spend money unnecessarily," said the king, quietly. "You can have as much fresh air at Potsdam as can ever enter your mouth, and it costs neither you nor I any thing. Say to Count Schmettau that you have a purchaser for his residence at Charlottenburg."

"Oh, you are really too kind," cried the equerry, in an excitement of joy; "I do not know-"

Here the carriage entered the palace court, and the concluding words were inaudible. Herr von Schwerin alighted quickly to assist the king. "Say to Schmettau to present himself to my treasurer and cabinet councillor, Menkon, tomorrow morning at twelve o'clock, at Sans-Souci."

The king nodded kindly to the equerry, and passed into the Swiss saloon, and farther on into the private rooms which he was accustomed to occupy whenever he remained at the capital. The Swiss saloon was fast filling, not alone with the generals and staff-officers of the Berlin garrison, but with the officers of the regiments from the provinces, who presented themselves at the palace according to the order of the king. The most of them were old and worn out, body and mind. They all looked morose and sorrowful. The great news of the approaching war with Austria had spread through the military. The old laurel-crowned generals of the Seven Years' War were unwilling to go forth to earn new laurels, for which they had lost all ambition. Not one dared betray his secret thoughts to another, or utter a word of disapproval. The king's spies were everywhere, and none could trust himself to converse with his neighbor, as he might prove to be one of them. There reigned an anxious, oppressive silence; the generals and staff-officers exchanged the ordinary greetings. All eyes were turned toward the door through which the king would enter, bowed down, like his generals, with the cares of life, and the burden of old age. The king slowly entered. He was, indeed, an old man, like those he came amongst, and now saluted. An expression of imperishable youth lighted up his pale, sunken face, and his eyes flashed with as much daring and fire as thirty-eight years before, when he had assembled his young officers around him in this very hall, to announce to them that he would march against Austria. How many wars, how many battles, how many illusions, victories, and defeats had the king experienced in these thirty-eight years! How little the youthful, fiery king of that day resembled the weak old man of to-day; how little in common the young King Frederick had with "Alten Fritz." And now in this feeble body dwelt the same courageous spirit. In the course of these years King Frederick II had become Frederick the Great! And great he was to-day, this little old man-great in his intentions and achievements, never heeding his own debility and need of repose. All his thoughts and endeavors concentrated on the welfare of his people and his country-on the greatness and glory of Germany. Those eyes which now glanced over the circle of generals were still flashing as those of the hero-king whose look had disarmed the lurking assassin, and confounded the distinguished savant in the midst of his eloquence, so that he stammered and was silent. He was still Frederick the Great, who, leaning upon his staff, was surrounded by his generals, whom he called to fight for their fatherland, for Germany!

"Gentlemen," said the king, "I have called you together to announce to you that we must go forth to new wars, and, God willing, to new victories. The Emperor of Austria forces me to it, for, against all laws and customs, and against all rights of kingdoms, he thinks to bring German territory into the possession of the house of Hapsburg. Charles Theodore, prince-elector, having no children, has concluded a treaty with the Emperor Joseph, that at his death the electorate of Bavaria will fall to Austria. In consequence thereof an Austrian army has marched into Bavaria, and garrisoned the frontier.-The prince-elector, Duke Charles Theodore, was not authorized to proceed thus, for, though he had no children to succeed him, he had a lawful successor in his brother's son, Duke Charles von Zweibrucken. Electoral Saxony and Mecklenburg have well-founded pretensions, even if Zweibrucken were not existing. All these princes have addressed themselves to me, and requested me to represent them to the emperor and to the imperial government-to protect them in their injured rights. I have first tried kindness and persuasion to bring back Austria from her desire of aggrandizement, but in Vienna they have repulsed every means of peaceable arbitration. I, as one of the rulers of the empire (and as I have reaffirmed the Westphalian treaty through the Hubertsburger treaty), feel bound to preserve the privileges, the rights, the liberty of the German states. I have therefore well reflected, and decided to draw the sword-that what the diplomats have failed to arrange with the pen should be settled with the sword. These are my reasons, gentlemen, which make it my duty to assemble an army; therefore I have called you together." His fiery eyes flashed around the circle, peeling into the thin, withered faces of his generals, and encountering everywhere a grave, earnest mien.

The king repressed with an effort a sigh; then continued, with a mild voice: "My feeble old age does not allow me to travel as in my fiery youth. I shall use a post-carriage, and you, gentlemen, have the liberty to do the same. On the day of battle you will find me mounted; you will follow my example. Until then, farewell!" [Footnote: The king's words.-See "Prussia, Frederick the Great," vol. iii.]

"Long live the king!" cried General von Krokow; and all the generals who formerly joined in this cry of the Prussian warrior, now repeated it in weak, trembling tones. Frederick smiled a recognition, bowing on all sides, then turned slowly away, leaning upon his staff.

When once more alone, the youthful expression faded from his eyes, and the gloomy shadows of old age settled down upon his thoughtful brow. "They have all grown old and morose," said he, mildly, "they will not show any more heroism; the fire of ambition is quenched in their souls! A warm stove must warm their old limbs. Oh! it is a pitiful thing to grow old; and still they call themselves the images of God! Poor boasters, who, with a breath of the Almighty, are overturned and bent as a blade of grass in the sand!"

"Your majesty, may I come in?" asked a gentle, happy child's voice.

The king turned hastily toward the door, so softly opened, and there stood a charming little boy, in the uniform of a flag-bearer, with the cap upon his head, and a neat little sword by his side. "Yes, you may enter," nodded the king kindly to him. "You know I sent for you, my little flag-bearer."

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