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Old Fritz and the New Era By L. Muhlbach Characters: 20802

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:02

Wilhelmine Enke passed the remainder of the day, after her meeting with the king, in anguish and tears. She recalled all that he had said to her, every word of which pierced her to the heart. Her little daughter of seven years tried in vain to win a smile from her mamma with her gentle caresses. In vain she begged her to sing to her and smile as she was wont to do. The mother, usually so kind and affectionate, would today free herself from her child, and sent her away with quivering lip, and tears in her eyes, to listen to her nurse's stories.

Once alone, Wilhelmine paced her room with rapid strides and folded arms, giving vent to her repressed anguish. She reviewed her life, with all its changing scenes. It was a sad, searching retrospection, but in it she found consolation and excuse for herself. She thought of her childhood; she saw the gloomy dwelling where she had lived with her parents, brothers, and sisters. She recalled the need and the want of those years-the sickly, complaining, but busy mother; the foolish, wicked father, who never ceased his constant exercise of the bugle, except to take repeated draughts of brandy, or scold the children. Then she saw in this joyless dwelling, in which she crouched with her little sisters, a young girl enter, and greet them smilingly. She wore a robe glittering with gold, with transparent wings upon her shoulders. This young girl was Wilhelmine's older sister, Sophie, who had just returned from the Italian opera, where she was employed. She still had on her fairy costume in which she had danced in the opera of "Armida," and had come, with a joyous face, to take leave of her parents, and tell them that a rich Russian count loved her, and wanted to marry her; that in the intervening time he had taken a beautiful apartment for her, where she would remove that very evening. She must bid them farewell, for her future husband was waiting for her in the carriage at the door.

Sophie laughed at her grumbling father, shook hands with her weeping mother, and bent to kiss the children. Wilhelmine, in unspeakable anguish, sprang after her, holding her fast, with both hands clinching the crackling wings. She implored her sister to take her with her, while the tears ran in streams down her cheeks. "You know that I love you," she cried, "and my only pleasure is to see you every day. Take me with you, and I will serve and obey you, and be your waiting-maid." Wilhelmine held the wings firmly with a convulsive grasp, and continued to weep and implore, until Sophie at last laughingly yielded.

"Well, come, if you will be my waiting-maid; no one combs hair as well as you, and your simple style of arranging it suits me better than any other. Come, come, it shall be arranged, you shall be my waiting-maid."

The pictures of memory changed, and Wilhelmine saw herself in the midst of splendor, as the poor little maid, unnoticed by her brilliant sister, the beloved of the Russian Count Matuschko. Joy and pleasure reigned in the beautifully gilded apartment where Sophie lived. She was the queen of the feasts and the balls. Many rich and fine gentlemen came there, and the beautiful Sophie, the dancer, the affianced of Count Matuschko, received their homage. No one observed the sad little waiting-maid, in her dark stuff dress, with her face bound up in black silk, as if she had the toothache. She wore the cast-off morning dresses of her sister, and, at her command, bound her face with the black silk, so that the admirers of her sister should not see, by a fugitive glance, or chance meeting, the budding beauty of the little maid.

Wilhelmine dared not enter the saloon when visitors were there; only when Sophie was alone, or her artistic hand was needed to arrange her sister's beautiful hair, was she permitted to stay with the future countess. Every rough touch was resented with harsh words, blows, and ill-treatment. The smiling fairy of the drawing-room, was the harsh, grim mistress for her sister, whose every mistake was punished with unrelenting severity. In fact, she was made a very slave; and now, after long years, the remembrance of it even cast a gloomy shadow over Wilhelmine's face, and her eyes flashed fire.

Another picture now rose up before her soul, which caused her face to brighten, as a beautiful beaming image presented itself, the image of her first and only love! She lived over again the day when it rose up like a sun before her wondering, admiring gaze, and yet it was a stormy day for her. Sophie was very angry with her, because in crimping her hair she had burnt her cheek, which turned the fairy into a fury. She threw the weak child upon the floor, and beat and stamped upon her.

Suddenly a loud, angry voice commanded her to cease, and a strong, manly arm raised the trembling, weeping girl, and with threatening tone bade Sophie be quiet. Prince Frederick William of Prussia took compassion on the poor child. The sister had not remarked him in her paroxysm of rage; had never heard him enter. He had been a witness to Wilhelmine's ill-treatment. He now defended her, blaming her sister for her cruelty to her, and declared his intention to be her future protector. How handsome he looked; how noble in his anger; how his eyes flashed as he gazed upon her, who knelt at his feet, and kissed them, looking up to him as her rescuer!

"Wilhelmine, come with me; I do not wish you to remain here," said he; "your sister will never forgive you that I have taken your part. Come, I will take you to your parents, and provide for you. You shall be as beautiful and accomplished a lady as your sister, but, Heaven grant, a more generous and noble-hearted one! Come!"

These words, spoken with a gentle, winning voice, had never died away in her heart. Twelve years had passed since then, and they still rang in her ear, in the tumult of the world as well as in the quiet of her lonely room. They had comforted her when the shame of her existence oppressed her; rejoiced her when, with the delight of youth and happiness, she had given herself up to pleasure. She had followed him quietly, devotedly, as a little dog follows his master. He had kept his word; he had had her instructed during three years, and then sent her to Paris, in order to give her the last polish, the tournure of the world, however much it had cost him to separate from her, or might embarrass him, with his scanty means, to afford the increase of expense. A year elapsed and Wilhelmine returned a pleasing lady, familiar with the tone of the great world, and at home in its manners and customs.

The prince had kept his word-that which he had promised her as he took her from her sister's house, to make her a fine, accomplished lady. And when he repeated to her now "Come," could she refuse him-him to whom she owed every thing, whom she loved as her benefactor, her teacher, her friend, and lover? She followed him, and concealed herself for him in the modest little dwelling at Potsdam. For him she lived in solitude, anxiously avoiding to show herself publicly, that the king should never know of her existence, and in his just anger sever the unlawful tie which bound her to the Prince of Prussia. [Footnote: "Memoirs of the Countess Lichtenau," p. 80.] Wilhelmine recalled the past seven years of her life, her two children, whom she had borne to the prince, and the joy that filled his heart as he became a father, although his lawful wife had also borne him children. She looked around her small, quiet dwelling, arranged in a modest manner, not as the favorite of the Prince of Prussia, but as an unpretending citizen's wife; she thought how oft with privations, with want even, she had had to combat; how oft the ornaments which the prince had sent her in the rare days of abundance had been taken to the pawnbrokers to provide the necessary wants of herself and children. Her eyes flashed with pride and joy at the thought which she dared to breathe to herself, that not for gold or riches, power or position, had she sold her love, her honor, and her good name.

"It was from pure affinity, from gratitude and affection, that I followed the husband of my heart, although he was a prince," she said.

Still the shame of her existence weighed upon her. The king had commanded her to hide her head so securely that no one might know her shame, or the levity of the prince.

"Go! and let me never see you again!"

Did not this mean that the king would remove her so far that there would not be a possible chance to appear again before him? Was there not hidden in these words a menace, a warning? Would not the king revenge on her the sad experiences of his youth? Perhaps he would punish her for what Doris Ritter had suffered! Doris Ritter! She, too, had loved a crown prince-she, too, had dared to raise her eyes to the future King of Prussia, for which she was cruelly punished, though chaste and pure, and hurled down to the abyss of shame for the crime of loving an heir to the throne. Beaten, insulted, and whipped through the streets, and then sent to the house of correction at Spandau! Oh, poor, unhappy Doris Ritter! Will the king atone to you-will he revenge the friend of his youth on the mistress of his successor? The old King Frederick, weary of life, thinks differently from the young crown prince. He can be as severe as his father, cruel and inexorable as he.

"Doris Ritter! Thy fate haunts me. On the morrow I also may be whipped through the streets, scorned, reviled by the rabble, and then sent to Spandau as a criminal. Did not the king threaten me with the house of correction, with the spinning-wheel, which he would have ready for me?"

At the thought of it a terrible anguish, a nameless despair, seized her. She felt that the spinning-wheel hung over her like the sword of Damocles, ready at the least occasion to fall upon her, and bind her to it. She felt that she could not endure such suspense and torture; she must escape; she must rescue herself from the king's anger.

"But whither, whither! I must fly from here, from his immediate proximity, where a motion of his finger is sufficient to seize me, to cause me to disappear before the prince could have any knowledge of it, before he could know of the danger which threatened me. I must away from Potsdam!"

The prince had arranged a little apartment in Berlin for the winter mont

hs, which she exchanged for Potsdam in the spring. This seemed to offer her more security for the moment, for she could fly at the least sign of danger, could even hide herself from the prince, if it were necessary to save him and herself. Away to Berlin, then! That was the only thought she was able to seize upon. Away with her children, before misfortune could reach them!

She sprang to the door, tore it open, rushing to the nurse, upon whose knees the baby slept, near whom her little daughter knelt. With trembling hands she took her boy and pressed him to her heart. "Louisa, we must leave here immediately; it is urgent necessity!" said she, with quivering lip. "Do not say a word about it to any one, but hasten; order quickly a wagon, bargain for the places, and say we must set off at once. The wagon must not be driven to the door, but we will meet it at the Berlin Gate. We will go on foot there, and get in. Quick, Louisa, not a word-it must be!"

The servant did not dare to oppose her mistress, or contradict the orders, but hastened to obey them.

"It is all the old king's fault," said Louisa to herself, as she hurried through the street. "Yes, the king has ordered mistress to Berlin. He looked so furious, the old bear! His eyes flashed so terribly, one might well fear him, and I thanked Heaven when mamselle sent me home from the park. It is coming to a bad end at last; I should have done better not to have taken the place at all. Oh, if we were only away from here; if I only could find a wagon to take us!"

Thanks to the nurse's fears and endeavors, the wagon was soon found, and scarcely an hour had passed before Wilhelmine Enke, her two children and nurse, were hidden under a plain linen-covered wagon, and on their way to Berlin.

The street was unusually animated, as the division of troops which the king had reviewed in Berlin, were marching out of the city to report themselves on the Bavarian frontier. Their first night's quarters were to be in Potsdam, and the last great parade was to take place there on the following morning, before the king commenced his journey. The driver had often to halt at the side of the street to let the troops pass, which with a full band of music, came marching on. At the head of one of the regiments, mounted upon a fiery steed, was a general in brilliant uniform, his breast covered with orders, which glittered in the sun. He was tall and rather corpulent, but appeared to advantage. His carriage was proud and imposing, his face was almost too youthful for a general, and his body too corpulent for the expressive and delicate features. As he passed by the poor, unpretending carriage, where Wilhelmine sat with her children, she heard distinctly his beautiful, sonorous voice, and merry laugh. "Oh Heaven, it is he!-it is he!" she murmured, drawing herself farther back into the wagon with her children. Just then, out of an opening in the linen cover, Louisa peeped, whispering, "Mamselle, it is the Prince of Prussia!"

"Be quiet-for mercy's sake be quiet, Louisa, that we may not be remarked!" said Wilhelmine, gently. "Take the child that he may not scream, for if the prince should hear him he will turn back. He knows the voice of his little son!"

"Yes, he knows the voice of his little son!" muttered the nurse, as she laid the child to her breast. "The little son must stop here on the street, in a miserable wagon, while his noble father rides past, so splendid and glittering with gold, not knowing that his little boy is so near him. Oh, a real trouble and a real heart-sorrow is this!"

"Indeed it is," said Wilhelmine, in her heart, "a real trouble and a real heart-sorrow. How all these men would present arms, and salute my children, if they had been born to a throne instead of obscurity! How they would bow and bend, if I were called Louisa of Hesse-Darmstadt, and the lawful wife of the prince! Did they not also bend and bow before the first wife, Elizabeth von Braunschweig, [Footnote: The first wife of Prince Frederick William of Prussia was the Princess Elizabeth von Braunschweig, the niece of Frederick the Great. The crown prince was scarcely twenty-one years of age when betrothed to her. After four years they were separated, on account of the improper conduct of the princess, who was banished to Stettin. There she lived until her death in 1840, after seventy-one years of imprisonment. Never during these seventy-one years had the Princess 'Lisbeth', as she was called, dared to leave Stettin. There she was obliged to amuse herself. Her concerts and evening entertainments were celebrated. The second wife of the crown prince of Prussia was Louisa of Hesse-Darmstadt, the mother of Frederick William III. She died in 1805.] although every one knew of her shameful conduct-knew of her intrigues with lackeys and common soldiers? Do they not now bow before her, although she is banished to Stettin for her infamous conduct, and lives there a prisoner? A fine imprisonment that! The whole town is her prison, and when she appears in public every one stands upon the street to salute the crown princess of Prussia. But when they see me they pass carelessly by, or they look at me with a contemptuous laugh, and fancy themselves miracles of virtue, and free from sin. My only crime is that my father was not a prince, and that I am of low birth. Am I to blame for that-to blame that the man whom I love, and who loves me, cannot marry me and make me his lawful wife?"

"Ho! gee, ho!" cried the driver to his horses. "Get up!" The troops had passed, the highway was now free, and uninterrupted rolled the heavy, creaking wagon into Berlin. Within all was quiet. The two children and nurse were asleep. The driver was half asleep, his head hung shaking about; only now and then he started to give his horses a crack, which the thin, wheezing animals did not heed in the least. Wilhelmine alone slept not; in her soul there was no quiet, no peace. She grumbled at fate, and at mankind. An unspeakable anxiety seized her for the immediate future, and fear of the king's anger. As the sun was setting they reached Berlin, and were entering the town, when the guard, in royal livery, sprang through the gate, calling, in a loud voice, to the wagon, "Halt-halt! Turn out of the way!" Then was heard the call of the sentinel, and the roll of the drums. An equipage, drawn by six black steeds, drove past. A pale, young wife, splendidly attired, leaned back in the carriage, and the little flag-bearer, Prince Frederick William, was by her side; on the seat opposite sat the second son, Prince Louis, and the lord steward. In this beautiful equipage drove the Princess of Prussia; at her side, in a miserable linen-covered wagon, crouching far in the corner, sat Wilhelmine Enke, the rival of the princess; near her, her two children, whose existence condemned her, and stamped her life with dishonor. Like a dream the brilliant apparition rushed past Wilhelmine, and it haunted her through the long streets, to the humble home where she sought a temporary refuge. And when finally alone, in her own room, where no one could spy into her face, nor understand her words, there broke forth from her soul a long-repressed wrong. She stood erect; a proud, insolent smile played around her mouth. "I am his wife, too; I alone am his beloved wife," said she, with a loud, triumphant voice, "and my children are his only truly-beloved children, for they are those of his love. How proudly she drove past me! How beautiful is her pale face, and how interesting her sad smile! She in sunlight, and I in shade! She knows that I am her rival, but she is not mine. No, the Princess of Prussia cannot rival Wilhelmine Enke. I have no fear of her. But the king I have to fear," cried she suddenly, shrinking with terror. In the meeting with the princess she had forgotten him, her anguish, her anxiety for the future. All were forgotten for the moment-to be recalled with renewed terror.

"Thank Heaven," she said, "I have escaped. For the moment I am safe! What will the prince do, when he finds that we have fled from Potsdam? Will he divine where we have gone? Will he come to seek me? If he still loves me-if I am really the happy rival of his wife and every other court lady-yes, then he will come. Then he will know where to find his Wilhelmine. But if it is true, what malicious people have repeated to me, with feigned sympathy, that the prince loves another-that he has withdrawn his love from me, is indifferent and cold-then he will not seek me; then I shall remain here alone!-alone, with my children, this long, fearful night! What, then, if I am alone? No, oh, no! I will not believe that I am forsaken. These are wicked thoughts which haunt me-only the agitation of this dreadful day, which imagination has overwrought. Rise up and be strong! Go to thy children," said she, "and read in their eyes that he can never leave thee!"

Forcing herself to composure, she sought her children; found Louisa humming and singing her little boy to sleep, and her daughter nodding, on a low stool at her feet.

"Come, my child, I will put you to sleep," said the mother, lifting her in her arms. "Your mother will make your bed softly. When you sleep and speak with the angels, intercede for us all."

With tender care she undressed her and bore her gently in her arms to her bed, and, kneeling before it, breathed a prayer over her sleeping child; then bent over the cradle of her son, blessing and kissing him. "Sleep my boy, sleep. I know not that I shall ever see thy beautiful eyes open again-whether I shall ever again press thee to my heart. Who can tell if they may not come this very night to remove me to prison-to punish me for you, my children, my beloved children!-Be calm, be calm! I shall remain here until morning, at least," added she.

She turned to the nurse, who, with anxious face and folded hands, stood at the farthest corner of the room. "Go, now, Louisa-go, and take something to eat. You must be hungry and tired. Buy at the next store what you need; but do not stop to talk with any one or repeat my name. Then return quickly, and take care of the children. Do not trouble yourself about me-I need nothing more."

"But you must eat something, mamselle; you must have some supper!"

Wilhelmine shook her head, refusing, and returned quickly to her own room.

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