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   Chapter 8 THE GOLDEN RAIN.

Old Fritz and the New Era By L. Muhlbach Characters: 11655

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:02


Prince Frederick William betook himself, with painful curiosity, to the audience-room, where the Minister von Herzberg awaited him.

"Your excellency," said he, "his majesty refers me to you, for the true explanation of the miraculous elixir contained in this little box, and about which I am naturally very curious, and beg of you the key to open it."

"Will your royal highness," said the minister, smiling, "have the grace to grant me a few moments' conversation, which may serve as an explanation, for his majesty has not in reality given me a key?"

"I pray you, my dear excellency, to explain it," cried the prince, impatiently.

"Pardon me if I probe the tenderest feelings of your heart, my prince. The command of the king imposes this duty upon me. He has known for a long time of your connection with a certain person, to whom you are more devoted than to your wife."

"Say, rather, his majesty has twice forced me to marry two unloved and unknown princesses, when he knew that I already loved this certain person. Twice I have married, because the command of his king is law to the crown prince of Prussia. For my love and my sympathy there is no law but that of my own heart, and this alone have I followed."

"His majesty does not reproach you. The philosopher of Sans-Souci understands human nature, and he feels indulgent toward your weakness. He is quite satisfied that you have chosen this person, as friend and favorite, to console yourself for an unhappy marriage. Her low birth is a guaranty that she will never mingle in politics, an act which would be visited with his majesty's highest displeasure. While his majesty permits you to continue this intimacy, and recognizes the existence of this woman, he wishes her to be provided for as becomes the mistress of a crown prince, and not as the grisette of a gentleman. She should have her own house, and the livery of her lord."

"As if it were my fault that this has not already been arranged!" cried the prince. "Am I not daily and hourly tormented with poverty, and scarcely know how to turn, between necessary expenses and urgent creditors? You know well yourself, your excellency, how stingy and parsimonious the king is to the crown prince. He scarcely affords me the means to support my family in a decent, to say nothing of a princely, manner. How dependent we all are, myself, my wife, and my children upon the king, whose economy increases, while our wants and expenses also increase every year! It is sufficiently sad that I cannot reward those who have proved to me during ten years their fidelity and love, but I must suffer them to live in dependence and want."

"His majesty understands that, and thinks that as your royal highness is to go to the field, and will be exposed, as a brave commander, to the uncertain fate of battle, that you should assure the future of all those who are dear to you, and arrange a certain competency for them. A good opportunity now offers to you. Count Schmettau will sell his villa at Charlottenburg, and it would be agreeable to his majesty that you should purchase it, and assign it to those dearest to you. In order to give you as little trouble as possible, his majesty has had the matter already arranged, through his equerry, Count Schmettau, and the purchase can be made this very hour. Here is the bill of sale; only the name of the present possessor is wanting, the signature of the purchaser, and the payment of seven thousand five hundred thalers."

"The names can be quickly written; but, your excellency," cried the prince, "where will the money come from?"

"I have just given your royal highness the key to the little box: have the goodness to press hard upon the rosette."

The prince touched the spring, the cover flew back-it contained only a strip of paper! Upon it was written, in the king's own handwriting, "Bill of exchange upon my treasurer. Pay to the order of the Prince of Prussia twenty thousand thalers." [Footnote: "Memoirs of the Countess Lichtenau," vol.1] The prince's face lighted up with joy. "Oh! the king has indeed given me a miraculous elixir, that compensates for all misfortunes, heals all infirmities, and is a balsam for all possible griefs. I will bring it into use immediately, and sign the bill of sale." He signed the paper, and filled with haste the deficiency in the contract. "It is done!" he cried, joyfully, "the proprietress, Wilhelmine Enke; purchaser, Frederick William of Prussia. Nothing remains to be done but to draw upon the king's treasury, and pay Count Schmettau."

"Your royal highness is spared even that trouble. Here are twenty rolls, and each roll contains one hundred double Fredericks d'or, and, when your highness commands it, I will reserve seven rolls and pay Count Schmettau; then there remain thirteen for yourself. Here is the contract, which you will give in person to the possessor."

"First, I must go to the king," said the prince; "my heart urges me to express my gratitude to him, and my deep sense of his goodness and tenderness. I feel ashamed without being humbled, like a repentant son, who has doubted the generosity and goodness of his father, because he has sometimes severely reprimanded his faults. I must go at once to the king."

"He will not receive your royal highness," answered Herzberg, smiling. "You know our sovereign, who so fully deserves our admiration and love. His favor and goodness beam upon us all, and he desires neither thanks nor acknowledgment. He performs his noble, glorious deeds in a harsh manner, that he may relieve the recipients of his bounty from the burden of gratitude; and often when he is the most morose and harsh, is he at heart the most gracious and affectionate. You and yours have experienced it to-day. He appeared to be angry, and enveloped himself

in the toga of a severe judge of morals; but, under this toga, there beat the kind, noble heart of a friend and father, who punishes with rigorous words, and forgives with generous, benevolent deeds."

"For this I must thank him-he must listen to me!" cried the prince.

"He will be angry if your royal highness forces him to receive thanks when he would avoid them. He has expressly commanded me to entreat you never to allude to the affair, and never to speak of it to others, as it would not be agreeable to his majesty to have the family affairs known to the world. You would best please his majesty by following exactly his wishes, and when you meet him never allude to it. As I have said, this is the express wish and command of the king."

"Which I must naturally follow," sighed the prince, "although I acknowledge that it is unpleasant to me to receive so much kindness from him without at least returning my most heart-felt thanks. Say to the king, that I am deeply, sensibly moved with his tender sympathy and generosity. And now I will hasten to Wilhelmine Enke; but, it occurs to me that it may not be possible; the king has made her a prisoner in her own house."

"Do not trouble yourself about that. If it is your royal highness's pleasure, drive at once to Charlottenburg. You will find the new possessor there and she will relate to you her interview with the mayor of Berlin."

"Oh! I shall drive at once to the villa. I am curious to learn what Von Kircheisen has told her."

"I imagined that you would be, and ordered your carriage here, as you could not well ride upon horseback with the heavy rolls of gold; and if it is your pleasure, I will order the footman to place the box, into which I have put them, in the carriage."

"No, no; I beg you to let me carry them," cried the prince, seizing the box with both hands. "It is truly heavy, but an agreeable burden, and if it lames my arm I shall bethink myself of the miraculous elixir, which will give me courage and strength. Farewell, your excellency; I shall hurry on to Charlottenburg!"

The prince hastened to his carriage, and ordered the coachman to drive at full speed to the villa. Thanks to this order, he reached it in about an hour. No one was there to receive him upon his arrival. The hall was empty, and the rooms were closed. The prince passed on to the opposite end, where there was a door open, and stood upon a balcony, with steps descending into the garden, which, with its flower-beds, grass-plots, shrubbery, and the tall trees, formed a lovely background. The birds were singing, the trees rustled, and variegated butterflies fluttered over the odorous flowers. Upon the turf, forming a beautiful group, was Wilhelmine playing with her daughter, and the nurse with the little boy upon her lap, who laughingly stretched out his arms toward his mother.

"Wilhelmine-Wilhelmine!" cried the prince.

With a cry of joy she answered, and flew toward the house. "You have come at last, my beloved lord," she cried, almost breathless, mounting the steps. "I beg you to tell me what all this means? I am dying of curiosity!"

"I also," said the prince, smiling. "Have the goodness to lead me to one of the rooms, that I may set down this box."

"What does that hobgoblin contain, that it prevents your embracing me?"

"Do not ask, but hasten to assist me to relieve myself of the burden." They entered the house, and Wilhelmine opened the wide folding-doors, which led into a very tastefully-furnished room. Frederick William set the box upon the marble table, and sank upon a divan with Wilhelmine in his arms. "First of all, tell me what Von Kircheisen said to you?"

"He commanded me, in the name of the king, to give up my dwelling at Berlin and at Potsdam, and to avoid showing myself in public at both places, that those who had the right to the love and fidelity of the Prince of Prussia should not be annoyed at the sight of me; that I should live retired, and leave the appointed residence as little as possible, for then the king would be inclined to ignore my existence, and take no further notice of me. But, if I attempted to play a role, his majesty would take good care that it should be forever played out."

"Those were harsh, cruel words," sighed Frederick William.

"Harsh, cruel words," repeated Wilhelmine, sorrowfully. "They pierced my soul, and I shrieked at last from agony. Herr von Kircheisen was quite frightened, and begged me to excuse him, that he must thus speak to me, but the king had commanded him to repeat his very words. The carriage was at the door, he said, ready to convey me to my future dwelling, for I must immediately leave Berlin, and the king be informed of my setting out. The coachman received the order, and here I am, without knowing what I am to do, or whether I shall remain here."

"Yes, Wilhelmine, you are to remain here; at last we have a home, and a resting-place for our love and our children. This house is yours-you are mistress here, and you must welcome me as your guest."

"This house is mine!" she cried, joyfully. "Did you give it to me? How generous, and how extravagant you are! Protect me with the gift of your love, as if you were Jupiter and I Danae!"

"A beautiful picture, and, that it may be a reality, I will play the role of Jupiter and open the box."

He took a roll of gold, and let it fall upon Wilhelmine's head, her beautiful shoulders, and her arms, like a shower of gold. She shrieked and laughed, and sought to gather up the pieces which rolled ringing around her upon the floor. The prince seized another roll, and another still, till she was flooded with the glistening pieces. Then another and another, until Wilhelmine, laughing, screamed for grace, and sprang up, the gold rolling around her like teasing goblins.

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