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Old Fritz and the New Era By L. Muhlbach Characters: 20741

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:02

The little flag-bearer skipped into the room with graceful vivacity, and sprang, with a merry bound, up to the king, took his hand without ceremony, and pressed it to his lips. Then, raising up his head and shaking back his light-brown curls from his rosy cheeks, his bright-blue eyes sparkling, he looked him full in the face. "Your majesty, you say that you sent for me; but I must tell you that if you had not sent for me I would have come here alone, and begged so long at the door, that you would have let me come in!"

"And what if I would not have let you come in at all?" said the king, smiling.

The little flag-bearer reflected a moment, then answered with a confident air: "Your majesty, I would have forced open the door, thrown myself at your feet, and kissed your hand, saying, 'My king, my dear great-uncle, I must come in to thank you a thousand times for the flag-bearer's commission you have sent me, and for the beautiful uniform.' Then I would see if your majesty had the courage to send me away."

"Let me see, my prince-do you think my courage could fail me upon any occasion?"

"Yes, in bad things," zealously cried the prince, "and it would be bad if you would not let me thank you. I am so happy with the commission and the beautiful uniform which you so graciously sent to me! Tell me, your majesty, do I not look beautifully?" The boy straightened his elegant, slender form, and saluted the king, putting the two fingers of his right hand upon his cap.

"Yes, yes," said Frederick, "you look very nicely, my prince; but it is not enough that you look well-you must behave well. From a flag-bearer in my army I expect very different things than from any common child. Who wears my uniform must prove himself worthy of the honor."

"Your majesty," cried the prince, "I assure you, upon my word of honor, that I have no bad marks when I wear the uniform. Your majesty can ask my tutor. He came with me, and waits in the anteroom to speak with you. He will tell you that I have a good report."

"Very well, we will call him presently," said Frederick, smiling. "Now we will chat a little together. Tell me whether you are very industrious, and if you are learning anything of consequence?"

"Sire, I must learn, even if I had no inclination to; Herr Behnisch leaves me no peace. I have scarcely time to play. I am always learning to read, to write, to cipher, and to work."

"How about the geography and universal history?"

"Oh, your majesty, I wish there were no geography and history in the world, and then I should not have to study so cruelly hard, and I could play more. My mother sent me last week a new battledore and shuttlecock, but I can never learn to play with it. I no sooner begin, than Herr Behnisch calls me to study. To-day I was very cunning-oh, I was so sly! I put it in the great-pocket of my tutor's coat, and he brought it here without knowing it."

"That was very naughty," said the king, a little severely. The prince colored, and, a little frightened, said: "Sire, I could not bring it any other way. I beg pardon, the uniform is so tight, and then-then, I thought it would be dishonoring it to put a shuttlecock in the cartridge-box."

"That was a good thought, prince, and for that I will forgive you the trick upon your tutor. But what will you do with the ball here? Why did you bring it?"

"Oh, I wished to show it to your majesty, it is so beautiful, and then beg you to let me play a little."

"We will see, Fritz," said the king, much pleased. "If you deserve it, that shall be your reward. Tell me the truth, is your tutor satisfied with you?"

"Sire, Herr Behnisch is never really pleased, but he has not scolded me much lately, so I must have been pretty good. One day he wrote 'Bien' under my French exercise. Oh, I was so happy that I spent six groschen of the thaler my father gave me a little while since, and bought two pots of gilly-flowers, one for myself and one for my little brother Henry, that he should have a souvenir of my 'Bien!'"

"That was right," said the king, nodding approvingly. "When you are good, you must always let your friends and relations take part in it; keep the bad only for yourself."

"I will remember that, and I thank you for the kind instruction."

"The studies seem to go very well, but how is it with the behavior? They tell me that the prince is not always polite to his visitors; that he is sometimes very rude, even to the officers who pay their respects to him on his father's account, and on my account, not on his own, for what do they care for such a little snip as he? They go to honor Prince Frederick William of Prussia, though he is only a little flag-bearer. They tell me that you do not appreciate the honor, but that at Easter you behaved very badly."

"Sire, it is true; I cannot deny it-I did behave badly," sighed the little prince.

"What was the matter?" asked the king. "It was not from fear, I hope? I should be very angry at that. Tell me yourself, and tell me the truth."

"Your majesty can depend upon the whole truth. My tutor says that lying is despicable, and that a prince who will one day be a king should be too proud to tell a lie! I will tell you all about it. The officers came to see me at Easter, just as I had put the Easter eggs in the garden, for my little brother and some other boys whom I had invited to hunt for them. I had spent my last six groschen for the eggs, and I anticipated so much pleasure with the hide-and-seek for them. We had just begun, when the officers came."

"That was really unfortunate," said the king, sympathizingly.

"Yes, sire, very disagreeable, and I could not possibly feel kindly. While the officers were talking, I was always wishing they would go. But they stayed and stayed-and when Major von Werder began to make a long speech to me, and I thought there was no end to it, I became impatient and furious-and-"

"Why do you hesitate?" asked the king, looking tenderly at the frank, glowing face of the boy. "What happened?"

"Something dreadful, sire! I could not keep in any longer. The major kept on talking, and looked at me so sharply, I could not help making an abominable face. It is unfortunately true-I ran my tongue out at him-only just a little bit-and I drew it back in an instant; but it was done, and a dreadful scene followed. The major did not say any thing, my tutor was red as fire, and I was thunderstruck!"

"That was excessively rude, my little flag-bearer," cried the king.

The young prince was so ashamed, and was looking down so penitently, that he did not see the smile on Frederick's face, and the affectionate look with which he regarded the youthful sinner.

"Do you know that you deserve to be imprisoned fourteen days, and live on bread and water, for insubordination?"

"I know it now, sire. I beg pardon most humbly," said the prince, with quivering voice and with tears in his eyes. "I have been punished enough, without that. Herr Behnisch would not let me go to the garden again, and I have never seen the eggs which I spent my last groschen for, nor the boys whom I had invited. I was made to stay in my room all Easter week, learn twenty Latin words every day, and write three pages of German words in good handwriting. It was a hard punishment, but I knew that I deserved it, and did not complain. I only thought that I would do better in future."

"If you thought so, and you have already been punished, we will say no more about it," said the king. "But tell me, how did you get on at Whitsuntide, when the officers paid you their respects again?"

"Your majesty," answered the prince, "it was a great deal better; I behaved tolerably well, except a very little rudeness, which was not so bad after all. [Footnote: The little prince's own words.-See "Diary of Prince Frederick William," p. 18.] Herr Behnisch did not punish me; he only said, another time, that I should do better, and not be so taciturn, but greet the gentlemen in a more friendly manner. I must tell you, sire, that when Herr Behnisch does not scold, it is a sure sign that I have behaved pretty well; and this time he did not."

"Fritz, I believe you," said the king, "and you shall have the reward that you asked for-stay here and play a little while. Go, now, and call your tutor; I have a few words to say to him."

The little prince sprang toward the door, but suddenly stopped, embarrassed.

"What is the matter?" asked the king. "Why do you not call your tutor?"

"Sire, I am very much troubled. Herr Behnisch will be very angry when you tell him about the shuttlecock. I beg you not to betray me!"

"Yes, but if you will play before me, you must get the plaything which you say is in his pocket."

"Sire, then I had rather not play," cried the prince.

"On the contrary," said the king, "your punishment shall be, to take the plaything as cleverly out of the pocket as you put it in. If you do it well, then I will say nothing about it; but, if your tutor discovers you, then you must submit to the storm. It lies in your own hands. Whilst I am conversing with the tutor, try your luck. Now call him in."

The prince obeyed thoughtfully, and the tutor entered. He stood near the door, and made the three prescribed bows; then he waited with a submissive air for further commands.

The king was sitting opposite the door, his hands folded upon his staff and his chin resting upon his hands, looking the tutor full in the face. Herr Behnisch bore it calmly; not a feature moved in his angular, wooden face. Near the tutor stood the little prince, his graceful, rosy, childlike face expressing eager expectation.

"Approach!" said the king.

Herr Behnisch stepped forward a little, and remained standing. The prince glided noiselessly after him, keeping his eyes fixed on the tails of the flesh-colored satin coat with which the tutor had adorned himself for this extraordinary occasion. The prince smiled as he saw the pocket open and the feathers of the shuttlecock peeping out. He stretched out his little hand and crooked his fingers to seize it.

"Come nearer! Herr Behnisch," said Frederick, who had observed the movement of the little prince, and who was amused at the thought of keeping him in suspense a little longer.

Herr Behnisch moved forward, and the prince, frightened, remained st

anding with outstretched hand. He menaced the king with a glance of his bright blue eyes. Frederick caught the look, smiled, and turned to the tutor.

"I believe it is three years since you commenced teaching the little prince?" said the king.

"At your service, your majesty, since 1775."

"A tolerably long time," said the king-"long enough to make a savant of a child of Nature. You have been faithful, and I am satisfied. The copybooks which you sent me according to my orders are satisfactory. I wished to acquaint you myself of my satisfaction, therefore I sent for you."

"Your majesty is very condescending," said the tutor, and his sharp, angular face brightened a little. "I am very happy in the gracious satisfaction of your royal highness. I wished also to make known to you personally my wishes in regard to the petition for the little prince's pocket-money; he should learn the use of money."

"Very well," said the king, nodding to the prince, who stood behind the tutor, holding up triumphantly the shuttle cock.

Yet, the most difficult feat remained to be accomplished. The battledoor was in the very depths of the pocket; only the point of the handle was visible.

"Your majesty," cried Herr Behnisch, who had taken the approving exclamation of "very well" to himself-"your majesty, I am very happy that you have the grace to approve of my petition for pocket-money."

"Yes, I think it well," said the king, "that the prince should learn not to throw money out of the window. I will send you, monthly, for the prince, two Fredericks d'or, and, before you hand it over to him, change it into small pieces, that there may be a great pile of it." [Footnote: The king's own words-See "Confidential Letters."]

Just at that moment the prince tried to seize the battle door. Herr Behnisch felt the movement, and was on the point of turning around, when Frederick stopped him, by saying, "I believe it is time to commence a regular course of instruction for the prince. At eight years of age the education of an heir to the throne must progress rapidly, and be regulated by fixed principles. I will write out my instructions, that you may always have them before you."

"It will be my most earnest endeavor to follow your majesty's commands to the letter," answered the tutor, who saw not the little prince, with beaming face, behind him, swinging the battledoor high in the air.

"I am about to enter upon a new war; no one knows if he will ever return from a campaign. I dare not spare my life, when the honor and fame of my house are at stake. Our life and death, however, are in God's hands. Before we risk our lives, we should put every thing in order, and leave nothing undone which it is our duty to do. I will write my instructions to-day, and send them to you. Promise me, upon your word of honor as a man, that you will act upon them, as long as you are tutor to Prince Frederick William, even if I should not return from the campaign."

"I promise it to your majesty," answered the tutor. "I will, in all things, according to the best of my ability, follow your majesty's instructions."

"I believe you; I take you to be an honorable man," said the king. "You will always be mindful of the great responsibility which rests upon you, as you have a prince to educate who will one day govern a kingdom, and upon whom the weal and woe of many millions are dependent. And when those millions of men one day bless the king whom you have educated, a part of the blessing will fall upon you; but when they curse him, so falls the curse likewise upon your guilty head, and you will feel the weight of it, though you may be in your grave! Be mindful of this, and act accordingly. Now you may depart. I will write the instructions immediately, so that you may receive them to-day."

Herr Behnisch bowed, backing out toward the door.

"One thing more," cried the king, motioning with his Staff to the tutor. "In order that you may ever remember our interview, I will present you with a souvenir."

He opened the drawer of his private writing-table, and took out a gold snuff-box, with his initials set in brilliants upon the cover; handing it to Herr Behnisch, he motioned him to retire, and thus spare him the expression of his gratitude.

"Your majesty," stammered Herr Behnisch, with tears in his eyes, "I-"

"You are an honest man, and so long as you remain so, you can count upon me. Adieu!-Now," said the king, as the door closed, "have you recovered the plaything?"

"Here it is, your majesty," shouted the prince, as he held up triumphantly the battledoor and shuttlecock high in the air.

"You deserve your reward, and you shall have it. You can stay with me and play with it here. Take care and not make too much noise, as I wish to write."

The king now seated himself, to draw up the instructions for Herr Behnisch. While he was thus occupied, the little prince tossed his shuttlecock, springing lightly after it on tiptoe to catch it; sometimes he missed it, and then he cast an imploring look at the king, as it fell upon the furniture; but he observed it not. He was absorbed in writing the instructions for the education of the future king, Frederick William III. The physical education of the prince was his first care. He dwelt upon the necessity of the frequent practice of dancing, fencing, and riding, to give suppleness, grace, and a good carriage-through severe training, to make him capable of enduring all hardships. The different branches of study next occupied the king. "It is not sufficient," he wrote, "that the prince should learn the dates of history, to repeat them like a parrot; but he must understand how to compare the events of ancient times with the modern, and discover the causes which produced revolutions, and show that, generally, in the world, virtue is rewarded and vice punished. Later, he can learn a short course of logic, free from all pedantry; then study the orations of Cicero and Demosthenes, and read the tragedies of Racine. When older, he should have some knowledge of the opinions of philosophers, and the different religious sects, without inspiring him with dislike for any one sect. Make it clear to him that we all worship God-only in different ways. It is not necessary that he should have too much respect for the priests who instruct him."

The shuttlecock fell, at this instant, upon the paper upon which the king was writing. Frederick was too much occupied to look up, but he threw it upon the floor, continuing to write:

"The great object will be to awaken a love of learning in the prince, to prevent any approach to pedantry, and not to make the course of instruction too severe at the commencement. We now come to the chief division of education, that which concerns the morals. Neither you nor all the power in the world would be sufficient to alter the character of a child. Education can do nothing further than moderate the violence of the passions. Treat my nephew as the son of a citizen, who has to make his own fortune. Say to him that, when he commits follies, and learns nothing, the whole world will despise him. Let him assume no mannerisms, but bring him up simply. The-"

It was the second time the shuttlecock fell upon the paper. The king looked up censuringly at the prince, who stood speechless with fright and anxiety. The king again threw it upon the floor, and wrote on:

"The prince must be polite toward every one; and if he is rude, he must immediately make an apology. Teach him that all men are equal-that high birth is a myth when not accompanied with merit. Let the prince speak with every one, that he may gain confidence. It is of no consequence if he talks nonsense; every one knows that he is a child. Take care in his education, above all things, that he is self-reliant, and not led by others; his follies, as well as his good qualities, should belong to himself. It is of very great importance to inspire him with a love for military life; and for this reason say to him, and let him hear others say it, that every man who is not a soldier is a miserable fellow, whether noble or not. He must see the soldiers exercise as often as possible; and it would be well to send for five or six cadets, and have them drill before him. Every thing depends upon cultivating a taste for these things. Inspire him with a love of our country, above all things. Let no one speak to him who is not truly patriotic."

Again the shuttlecock fell upon the paper. The little prince uttered a cry of horror, staring at the plaything. This time the king did not receive the interruption so calmly. He looked at the speechless boy as if very angry; then took it and put it in his pocket. Casting another angry glance at the prince, he continued:

"The officers who dine with the prince shall tease and annoy him, that he may become confident."

"Your majesty," said the prince, timidly and imploringly, "I beg pardon a thousand times for being so awkward. I am sorry, and I will be more careful in the future."

The king paid no attention to him, but continued to write: "When you understand him better, try to learn his chief passion to uproot it, but to moderate it." [Footnote: This entire instruction is an exact translation of the original, which Frederick drew up in French, and which is included in his "Complete Works."]

"My dear lord and king," began the prince again, "I beg you will have the goodness to give me my shuttlecock."

The king was silent, and with apparent indifference commenced reading over what he had written.

Prince Frederick William waited a long time, but, on receiving no answer, and understanding that his pleading was in vain, his face grew red with anger, and his eyes flashed. With an irritated, determined manner, he stepped close up to the king, his hands resting upon his hips. "Your majesty," cried he, with a menacing tone, "will you give me my ball or not?"

The king now looked up at the prince, who regarded him in an insolent, questioning manner. A smile, mild as the evening sunset, spread over the king's face; he laid his hand lovingly upon the curly head of the prince, saying: "They will never take away Silesia from you. Here is your shuttlecock." He drew it from his pocket, and gave it to the little prince, who seized his hand and pressed it to his lips.

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