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Old Fritz and the New Era By L. Muhlbach Characters: 20963

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:02

The king withdrew from the parade slowly, followed by his generals, in the direction of Sans-Souci. The streets of Potsdam were lined with the people, shouting their farewell to the king, who received them with a smiling face. Arriving at the grand entrance, he turned to his suite, saying, "Gentlemen, we shall meet again in Bohemia; I must now take leave of you, and forego the pleasure of receiving you again to-day. A king about to leave for the field has necessary arrangements to make for the future. I have much to occupy me, as I set out early to-morrow morning. You, also, have duties to attend to. Farewell, gentlemen."

He raised his worn-out three-cornered hat, saluted his generals with a slight inclination of the head, and turned into the broad avenue which led to the park of Sans-Souci. No one followed him but two mounted footmen, who rode at a respectful distance, attentively regarding the king, of whom only the bowed back and hat were visible. Half way down the avenue his staff was raised above his hat, the sign the footmen awaited to dismount with the greyhounds, which rode before them upon the saddle. At the shrill barking of the animals, Frederick reined in his horse, and turned to look for them. They bounded forward, one upon each side of the king, who regarded them right and left, saying: "Well, Alkmene, well Diana, let us see who will be the lady of honor to-day."

Both dogs sprang with loud barking to the horse, as if understanding the words of their master. Alkmene, stronger, or more adroit, with one bound leaped to the saddle; while poor Diana landed upon the crouper, and, as if ashamed, with hanging head and tail, withdrew behind the horse. "Alkmene has won!" said Kretzschmar to his companion. "Yes, Alkmene is the court-lady to-day, and Diana the companion," he nodded. "She will be cross, and I do not blame her."

"Nor I," said Kretzschmar; "there is a great difference between the court-lady and the companion. The lady remains with the king all day; he plays with her, takes her to walk, gives her bonbons, and the choice morsels of chicken, and only when she has eaten sufficient, can the companion enter to eat the remainder." [Footnote: This was the daily order of rank with the favorite dogs, for whose service two dog-lackeys, as they were called, were always in waiting. They took them to walk.]

"One could almost envy the king's greyhounds!" sighed the second footman. "We get dogs' wages, and they the chicken and good treatment. It is a pity!"

"The worst of it is, the king forbids us to marry!" said Kretzschmar sadly. "All the others would leave him, but I pay no attention to old Fritz's snarling and scolding, for he pays for it afterward; first, it rains abusive words, then dollars, and if the stupid ass hits me over the head, he gives me at least a ducat for it. Why should not one endure scoldings when is well paid for it? I remain the fine handsome fellow that I am, if the old bear does call me an ass! His majesty might well be satisfied if he had my fine figure and good carriage."

"Yes, indeed, we are very different fellows from old Fritz!" said the second lackey, with a satisfied air. "A princess once thought me a handsome fellow! It is eleven years since, as I entered the guards on account of my delicate figure. I was guard of honor in the anteroom of the former crown princess of Prussia. It was my first experience. I did not know the ways of the lords and ladies. Suddenly, a charming and beautifully-dressed lady came into the anteroom, two other young ladies following her, joking and laughing, quite at their pleasure. All at once the elegantly-attired lady fixed her large black eyes upon me, so earnestly, that I grew quite red, and looked down. 'See that handsome boy,' she cried. 'I will bet that it is a girl dressed up!' She ran up to me, and began to stroke my cheek with her soft hand, and laughed. 'I am right. He has not the trace of a beard; it is a girl!' And before I knew it she kissed me, then again, and a third time even. I stood still as if enchanted, and, as I thought another kiss was coming, whack went a stout box on my ear. 'There is a punishment for you,' said she, 'that you may know enough to return a kiss when a handsome lady gives you when the king did not wish them with him; in summer, in an open wagon, the dogs upon the back-seat, and the footmen upon the forward seat, and whenever they reproved them, to bring them to order, they addressed them in the polite manner of one, and not stand like a libber,' and with that she boxed me again. The other two ladies laughed, which made me angry, and my ears were very warm. 'If that happens again,' said I, 'by thunder, she will find I do not wait to be punished!' I laid down the arms, and at once sprang after the lady, when-the folding-doors were thrown open, and two gentlemen, in splendid gold-embroidered dresses, entered. As they saw the little lady, they stood astonished, and made the three prescribed bows. I smelt the rat, and put on my sword quickly, and stood stiff as a puppet. The gentlemen said, that they must beg an interview with her royal highness, to deliver the king's commands. The princess went into an adjoining room. One of the court-ladies stopped before me a moment, and said: 'If you ever dare to tell of this, you shall be put in the fortress. Remember it, and keep silent.' I did so, and kept it a secret until to-day."

"Did the princess ever punish you again?" asked Kretzchmar, with a bold, spying look.

"No, never," answered the lackey Schultz. "The princess was ordered to Stettin the next day, where she still lives as a prisoner for her gay pranks. I remembered her punishment, and when a lady has kissed me, I have bravely returned it."

The footmen had followed the king up the slowly ascending horse-path to the terrace, and now they sprang quickly forward. Kretzschmar swung himself from his saddle, threw Schultz the reins, and, as the king drew up at the side-door of the palace of Sans-Souci, he stood ready to assist him to dismount. The king had given strict orders that no one should notice his going or coming, and to-day, as usual, he entered without pomp or ceremony into his private room, followed by Kretzschmar alone. He sank back into his armchair, the blue damask covering of which was torn and bitten by the dogs, so that the horse-hair stood out from the holes.

"Now relate to me, Kretzschmar, how your expedition succeeded. Did you go to Berlin to see Mademoiselle Enke last night?"

"Yes, your majesty, I was there, and have brought you the writing."

"Was she alone?" asked the king, bending over to caress Alkmene, who lay at his feet.

"Well," answered Kretzschmar, grinning, "I do not know whether she was alone or not. I only know that, as I waited a little on the corner of the street, I saw a gentleman go out, wrapped in a cloak, a tall, broad-shouldered gentleman, whom I-"

"Whom you naturally did not recognize," said the king, interrupting him; "it was a dark night, and no moon, so that you could not see."

"At your service, your majesty, I could see no one; I would only add that the unknown may have been at Mademoiselle Enke's."

"And he may not have been," cried the king, harshly. "What else did you learn?"

"Nothing at all worth speaking about. Only one thing I must say, the lackey Schultz is a prattling fool, and speaks very disrespectfully."

"Did he talk with you?"

"Yes, your majesty, with me."

"Then he knows well that it would be welcome. What did he say?"

"He related to me a love-affair with the crown princess of Prussia eleven years since. He plumes himself upon the crown princess having stroked his beard."

"Be quiet!" commanded the king, harshly. "If Schultz was drunk, and talked in a crazy manner, how dare you repeat it to me? Let this happen again, and I will dismiss you my service. Remember it, you ass!"

"Pardon me, your majesty, I thought I must relate all that I hear of importance."

"That was not important, and not worth the trouble of talking about. If Schultz is such a drunken fellow I did not know it, and he is to be pitied. You can go now; I give you a day to make your farewells to your friends, and to console them with the hope of meeting you again. Put every thing in order that concerns you. If you have debts, pay them."

"I have no money to pay them, your majesty," sighed Kretzschmar.

The king stepped to the iron coffer, of which no one possessed the key but himself, and looking within said: "You cannot have much money to-day, as the drawer which contains the money for the gossips and spies is quite empty, and you have had a good share of it. Five guldens remain for you."

"Alas! your majesty, it is too little; twenty-five guldens would not pay my debts."

The king closed the drawer, saying: "Judas only received twenty shillings for betraying his Master. Twenty-five is quite enough for Kretzschmar for betraying his comrade."

Kretzschmar slunk away. The king fixed his great eyes upon him until the door closed. "Man is a miserable race; for gold he would sell his own brother-would sell his own soul, if there could be found a purchaser," he murmured. "Why do you growl, Alkmene, why trouble yourself, mademoiselle? I was not speaking of your honorable race; only of the pitiful race of men. Be quiet, my little dog, be quiet; I love you, and you are my dear little dog," he said, pressing her caressingly to his breast.

The footman Schultz appeared to announce the equerry Von Schwerin.

"Bid him enter," nodded the king.

Von Schwerin entered, with a smiling face. "Have you accomplished what I confided to you?"

With a profound bow Von Schwerin drew a roll of paper from his breast-pocket, and handed it to the king, saying, "I am so fortunate as to have accomplished your commands."

"Will Count Schmettau give up the villa at once?"

"Yes, your majesty, the new occupant could take possession to-day, with all the furniture and house arrangements, for seven thousand five hundred dollars. Here is the bill of sale, only the purchaser's name is wanting. I have obeyed your majesty's commands, and acted as if I were the purchaser."

"Schmettau is not such a stupid fellow as to believe that, for he knows that you cannot keep your money. You say the contract is ready, only the signature of the purchaser is wanting and the money?"

"Pardon me, your majesty, the name of the present possess

or has not been inserted. I did not presume to write it without the unmistakable command of your majesty."

"Do you know the name?" asked the king.

"I do not, but the generosity of my most gracious king and master allows me to divine it, and my heart is filled to bursting with thankfulness and joy. My whole life will not be long enough to prove to you my gratitude."

"What for?" asked the king, staring at Von Schwerin, quite surprised; "you cannot suppose that I have purchased the villa for you?"

Herr von Schwerin smilingly nodded. "I think so, your majesty."

Frederick laughed aloud. "Schwerin, you are an uncommonly cunning fellow. You see the grass grow before the seed is sown. This time you deceived yourself-the grass has not grown. What good would it do you? You do not need grass, but thistles, and they do not grow at Charlottenburg. Take the contract to my minister Von Herzberg, whom you will find in the audience-room, and then walk a little upon the terrace to enjoy the fresh air. I promised you the privilege. First go to Von Herzberg, and say to him to send the Prince of Prussia to me immediately upon his arrival. Why do you wear so mournful a face all of a sudden? Can it be possible that my chief equerry has so lowered himself as to go among the mechanics, and build chateaux en Espagne? You know such houses are not suitable for our northern climate, and fall down. Now, do what I told you, and then go upon the terrace."

The equerry glided away with sorrowful mien to Von Herzberg, and communicated the king's commands to him.

"You have made a good purchase," said the minister, in a friendly manner. "His majesty will be very much pleased with the extraordinary zeal and the great dexterity with which you have arranged the matter. Count Schmettau has just been here, and he could not sufficiently commend your zeal and prudence, and the sympathy and interest which you showed in the smallest matters, as if the purchase were for yourself. The count wishes to reserve two oil paintings in the saloon, which are an heirloom from his father. We cannot but let the count retain them."

"Arrange it as you will," answered the equerry, fretfully; "I have nothing more to do with the affair-it lies in your hands."

"But where are you going in such haste?" said Herzberg, as the equerry bowed hastily, and strode through the room toward the door.

"His majesty commanded me to go upon the terrace," he replied, morosely.

Herr von Herzberg looked after him surprised. "Something must have occurred, otherwise he is very tractable. Ah! there comes the prince. I will go to meet him, and communicate to him the king's command-I will await your royal highness here until you have spoken with the king, if you will have the grace to seek me."

"I will return by all means, if you will have the kindness to wait for me," replied the prince, smiling, and hastened to the interview with his royal uncle.

Frederick was seated in his arm-chair, upon his lap Alkmene, when the crown prince entered. "Bon jour, mon neveu! pardon me," said he, with a friendly nod, "that I remain seated, and do not rise to greet the future King of Prussia."

"Sire, Heaven grant that many years pass before I succeed to the title which my great and unapproachable predecessor has borne with so much wisdom and fame, that one can well doubt the being able to emulate his example, and must content himself to live under the shadow of his intelligence and fame!"

Frederick slowly shook his head. "The people will not be satisfied, nor the coffers filled by fame. No one can live upon the great deeds of his ancestors; he must be self-sustaining, not seek for the laurels in the past, but upon the naked field of the future, which lies before him. Sow the seeds of future laurels; fame troubles me but little, and I advise you, my nephew, not to rely upon it. One must begin anew each day, and make fresh efforts for vigorous deeds."

The crown prince bowed, and seated himself upon the tabouret, which the king, with a slight wave of the hand, signified to him.

"I will endeavor, sire, to follow the elevated sentiments of your majesty, that I may not dishonor my great teacher."

"You express yourself too modestly, my nephew, and I know that you think otherwise; that your fiery spirit will never be contented to dishonor yourself or your ancestors. Fate is favorable to you, and offers the opportunity to confirm, what I judge you to be-a brave soldier, a skilful captain-in a word, a true Hohenzollern! I would make you a commander of a division of my army, and I shall follow every movement-every operation, with lively interest."

A ray of joy beamed upon the face of the prince; Frederick saw it with satisfaction, and his heart warmed toward his nephew. "He has at least courage," he said to himself; "he is no sybarite to quail before the rough life of war."

"Will your majesty so greatly favor me as to accord me an independent position in the campaign?"

"I offer you what belongs to you as a general and heir to the throne. On me it devolves to direct the plans and operations, and on you to detail them and direct the execution. I shall rejoice to see that you understand the profession of war practically as well as theoretically. Therefore, this war is so far welcome, that it will give my crown prince an opportunity to win his first laurels, and adorn the brow which, until now, has been crowned with myrtle."

"Your majesty, I-"

"Be silent-I do not reproach you, my nephew; I understand human nature, and the seductive arts of women. It is time that you seek other ornament-myrtle becomes a youthful brow, and the helmet adorns the man crowned with laurels."

"I have long desired it, and I am deeply grateful to your majesty for the opportunity to win it. This campaign is good fortune to me."

"War is never a good fortune," sighed the king-"for the people it is great misfortune. I would willingly have avoided it for their sake. But the arrogance and the passion for territorial aggrandizement of the young Emperor of Germany forces me to it. I dare not, and will not suffer Austria to enrich herself through foreign inheritance, ignoring the legitimate title of a German prince. Bavaria must remain an independent, free German principality, under a sovereign prince. It is inevitably necessary for the balance of power. I cannot yield, therefore, as a German prince, that Austria increase her power in an illegitimate manner, but I will cast my good sword in the scales, that the balance is heavier on the side upon which depends the existence of Germany, that she may not be tossed in the air by Austria's weight. These are my views and reasons for the war upon which I now enter with reluctance. When the greatness and equilibrium of Germany are at stake, no German prince should dare hesitate. Austria has already cost Germany much blood, and will cause her to shed still more. Believe it, my nephew, and guard yourself against Austria's ambition for territorial aggrandizement. You see, I am like all old people, always teaching youth, while we have much to learn ourselves. We are all pupils, and our deeds are ever imperfect."

"Your majesty cannot believe that of himself. The sage of Sans-Souci is the type, the master, and teacher of all Europe."

"My son," replied the king, "the great men of antiquity recognized it as the acme of wisdom, that they must be mindful that 'in the midst of life we are in death.' At the gay festivities and the luxurious feasts they were interrupted in the merry song and voluptuous dance, with the warning: 'Remember, O man, that thou must die!' Let us profit by their wisdom! I have startled you from the banquet of life, and I doubt not that many singers and dancers will be enraged that I should put an end to the feasts of roses and the merry dance in such an abominable manner. It would be an evil omen in our warlike undertaking, if the rosy lips of the beauties should breathe curses to follow us; therefore, we must try to conciliate them, and leave a good souvenir in their hearts. You smile, my prince, and you think it vain trouble for an old fellow; that I cannot win the favor of the ladies under any pretension; so you must undertake for me the reconciliation and the hush-money."

"I am prepared for any thing which your majesty imposes upon me; only I would defend myself against the interpretation which you give my smile-and-"

"Which was very near the truth," interrupted the king. "I have called you from the banquet of life, and I have interrupted the dancers, crowned with roses in the midst of their dance, which they would finish before you. I pray you, then, indemnify the enraged beauties, and let us go forth with a quiet conscience, that we in no respect are indebted to any one."

"Oh, sire, it will be impossible for me to go to the field with a quiet conscience upon this point."

"Permit me to extend to you the means to do so," replied the king, graciously smiling. "Take this little box; it contains a wonderful elixir, proof against all the infirmities and weaknesses of humanity, of one of the greatest philosophers of human nature. By the right use of it, tears of sorrow are changed to tears of joy, and a Megerea into a smiling angel, as by enchantment. Before going to the war, I pray you to prove the miraculous elixir upon one of the angry beauties. For, I repeat, we must put our house in order, and leave no debts behind us. The debts of gratitude must not be forgotten. Let us say 'Gesegnete Mahlzeit' when we have been well feasted."

The king handed the prince a little box, of beautiful workmanship, and smiled as he rather vehemently thanked him, and at the same time tried to open it.

"I remark with pleasure that you have a tolerably innocent heart, as you betray curiosity about the wonderful elixir. I supposed men, to say nothing of beautiful women, had long since instructed you that it was the only balsam for all the evils of life. My minister Herzberg will give you the key of the little box, and advise you as to the right use of the elixir. Farewell, with the hope of soon seeing you again, my nephew. I start for Silesia to-morrow, as I must travel slower than you young people. You will follow me in a few days. Again farewell!"

Extending his meagre white hand to the prince, he withdrew it quickly, as the latter was about to press it to his lips, and motioned to the door kindly.

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