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Old Fritz and the New Era By L. Muhlbach Characters: 27683

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:02

Wilhelmine Enke had passed the day in great anxiety and excitement, and not even the distraction of her new possession had been able to calm the beating of her heart or allay her fears. Prince Frederick William had arrived early in the morning, to bid her farewell, as he was to march in the course of the day with his regiments from Potsdam. With the tenderest assurances of love he took leave of Wilhelmine, and with tears kissed his two children, pressing them to his heart. As he was about to enter his carriage he returned to the house to embrace his weeping mistress, and reassure her of his fidelity, and make her promise him again and again that she would remain true to him, and never love another.

It was not alone the farewell to her beloved prince which caused Wilhelmine such anxiety and made her so restless. Like a dark cloud the remembrance of Cagliostro's mysterious appearance arose in her mind, overshadowing her every hour more and more, filling her soul with terror. In vain did she seek refuge near her children, trying to cheer and forget herself in their innocent amusement-one moment running about the garden with them, then returning to the house to reexamine it. Her thoughts would revert to Cagliostro, and the solemnities which were to take place at her house that night. The thought terrified her that at nightfall she was obliged to send away all her servants, and not even be permitted to lock herself in the lonely, deserted house. For the great magician had commanded her to let the doors of her house stand open; he would place sentinels at every entrance, and none but the elect would be allowed to enter. Wilhelmine had not the courage to resist this command. As evening approached, she sent the cook, with other servants, to her apartment at Berlin, ordering them to pack her furniture and other effects, and send them by a hired wagon to Charlottenburg the following morning. An hour previous to this she had sent the nurse and two children to Potsdam with a similar commission, ordering them to return early the next day. Alone she now awaited with feverish anxiety Cagliostro's appearance. Again and again she wandered through the silent, deserted rooms frightened at the sound of her own footsteps, and peering into each room as if an assassin or robber were lurking there. She had many enemies-many there were who cursed her, and, alas! none loved her-she was friendless, save the prince, who was far away. The tears which the princess had shed on her account weighed like a heavy burden upon her heart, burning into her very soul in this hour of lonely, sad retrospection. She tried in vain to excuse herself, in the fact that she had loved the prince before his marriage; that she had sacrificed herself to him through affection, and that she was not entitled to become his wife, as she was not born under the canopy of a throne.

From the depths of her conscience there again rose the tearful, sad face of the princess, accusing her as an adulteress-as a sinner before God and man! Terrified, she cried: "I have truly loved him, and I do still love him; this is my excuse and my justification. She is not to be pitied who can walk openly by the side of her husband, enjoying the respect and sympathy of all to whom homage is paid, and who, one day, will be queen! I am the only one, I alone! I stand in the shade, despised and scorned, avoided and shunned by every one. Those who recognize me, do so with a mocking smile, and when I pass by they contemptuously shrug their shoulders and say to one another, 'That was Enke, the mistress of the Prince of Prussia!' All this shall be changed," she cried aloud; "I will not always be despised and degraded! I will be revenged on my crushed and scorned youth! I will have rank and name, honor and position, that I will-yes, that I will, indeed!"

Wilhelmine wandered on through the silent rooms, all brilliantly illuminated, a precaution she had taken before dismissing her servants. The bright light was a consolation to her, and, at least, she could not be attacked by surprise, but see her enemy, and escape. "I was a fool," she murmured, "to grant Cagliostro this reception to-night. I know that he is a charlatan! There are no prophets or wizards! Yet, well I remember, though a stranger to me, in Paris, how truthfully he brought before me my past life; with what marvellous exactness he revealed to me secrets known only to my Maker and myself. Cagliostro must be a wizard, then, or a prophet; he has wonderful power over me also, and reads my most secret thoughts. He will assist me to rise from my shame and degradation to an honored position. I shall become a rich and influential woman! I will confide in him, never doubting him-for he is my master and savior! Away with fear! He has said that the house should be guarded, and it will be! Onward then, Wilhelmine, without fear!"

She hastened to the large drawing-room, in order to see the effect of the numerous wax-lights in the superb chandeliers of rock crystal. The great folding-doors resisted all her efforts to open them. "Who is there?" cried a loud, threatening voice. Trembling and with beating heart Wilhelmine leaned against the door, giddy with fear, when a second demand, "Who is there? The watchword! No one can pass without the countersign!" roused her, and she stole back on tiptoe to her room. "He has kept his word, the doors are guarded!" she whispered. "I will go and await him in my sitting-room." She stepped quickly forward, when suddenly she thought she heard footsteps stealing behind her; turning, she beheld two men wrapped in black cloaks, with black masks, stealthily creeping after her. Wilhelmine shrieked with terror, tore open the door, rushed across the next room into her own boudoir. As she entered a glance revealed to her that the two masks approached nearer and nearer. She bolted the door quickly, sinking to the floor with fright and exhaustion. "What are they going to do? Will they force open the door and murder me? How foolish, how fearfully foolish to have sent away all my servants. Now I understand it: Cagliostro is not only an impostor-a charlatan, but he is a thief and an assassin. I have been caught in the trap set for me, like a credulous fool! He and his associates will rob me and plunder my beautiful villa, but just given to me, and, when they have secured all, murder me to escape betrayal." With deep contrition, weeping and trembling, Wilhelmine accused herself of her credulity and folly. For the first time in her life she was dismayed and cowardly, for it was the first time that she had had to tremble for her possessions. It was something so new, so unaccustomed to her to possess any thing, that it made her anxious, and she feared, as in the fairy tale, that it would dissolve into nothing. By degrees her presence of mind and equanimity were restored. The stillness was unbroken-and no one forced the door, to murder the mistress of this costly possession. Gathering courage, she rose softly and stole to the window. The moon shone brightly and clearly. The house stood sideways to the street, and separated from it, first by thick shrubbery, and then a trellised lawn. Whoever would enter, directly turned into a path leading from the street into the shrubbery. Just upon this walk, Wilhelmine perceived masked men approaching, one by one, as in a procession-slowly, silently moving on, until they neared the gate of the trellised square, where two tall, dark forms were stationed to demand the countersign, which being given, they passed over the lawn into the house.

"I will take courage; he has told me the truth, the house is well guarded," murmured Wilhelmine. "None but the summoned can enter; I belong to the number, and when it is time Cagliostro will come and fetch me. Until then, let me await quietly the result," said she, as she stretched herself comfortably upon the sofa, laughing at her former cowardice and terror. "No one can enter this room unless I open the door, and fortunately there is but one exit. The wizard himself could not gain admittance unless the walls should open or the bolt drive hack for him. Hark! it strikes eleven, one tedious hour longer to wait. I must try to rest a little." She laid her head upon the cushion, closing her eyes. The calm and the quiet were refreshing after the excitement of the day. Gradually her thoughts became confused-dim pictures floated past her mental vision, her breathing became shorter, and she slept. The stillness was unbroken, save the clock striking the quarters of every hour. Scarcely had the last quarter to midnight sounded, when the window was softly opened, and a dark form descended into the room. He listened a moment, looking at the sleeping one, who moved not; then extinguished the light, creeping toward the door. Wilhelmine slept on. Suddenly it seemed to her as if sunbeams blinded her, and she started up from a profound sleep. It was indeed no dream. A white form stood before her of dazzling brilliancy, as if formed of sun-rays.

"Rise and follow me!" cried a commanding voice. "The Great Kophta commands you. Mask yourself, and, as your life is dear to you, do not raise it for one instant!" Wilhelmine took the mask, upon which flickered a little blue flame, and held it close to her face. "Pray in spirit, then follow me." Wilhelmine followed without opposition the bright form which moved before her through the dark rooms. She felt as if under the influence of a charm; her heart beat violently, her feet trembled, but still she felt no more wavering or fear; a joyous confidence filled her whole being. With her eyes bent upon the moving form of light, she went onward in the obscurity, and entered the great drawing-room, where profound darkness and silence reigned. A slight murmur, as of those in prayer, fell on her car, and it seemed as if numberless black shadows were moving about. "Kneel and pray," whispered a voice near her. Her conductor had disappeared, and the gloom of night surrounded her. Wilhelmine knelt as she was bidden, but she could not pray; breathless expectation and eager curiosity banished all devotion and composure. Occasionally was heard, amid the silence and darkness, a deep sigh, a suppressed groan, or a shriek, which died away in the murmuring of prayer. Suddenly a strange music broke the stillness-sharp, piercing tones, resonant as bells, and increasing in power, sometimes as rich and full as the peals of an organ, then gentle and soft as the murmuring wind, or a sorrow-laden sigh. Then, human voices joined the music, swelling it to a wonderful and harmonious choir-to an inspired song of aspiration, Of fervent expectation, and imploring the coming of him who would bring glory and peace, filling the hearts of believers with godliness. The chorus of the Invisibles had not ceased, when a strange blue light began to glimmer at the farther end of the room; then it shot like a flash through the dark space. As their dazzled eyes were again raised, they saw in a kind of halo, in the midst of golden clouds, a tall, dazzling figure, in a long, flowing robe, sparkling with silver. The lovely bust, the beautiful arms and shoulders, were covered with a transparent golden tissue, over which fell the long, curly hair to the waist. A glittering band, sparkling like stars, was wound through the hair, which surrounded a feminine face of surpassing beauty. Perpetual youth glowed upon her full, rosy cheeks; bright intelligence beamed from the clear, lofty brow; peace, joy, and happiness, were revealed in the smile of the red lips; love and passion flashed from the large, brilliant eyes. The choir of the Invisibles now sang in jubilant tones: "The eternal Virgin, the everlasting, holy, and pure being, greets the erring, blesses those that seek, causing them to find, and partake with joy."

The heavenly woman raised her lovely arms, extending them as if for a tender embrace. A captivating smile lighted up her features; a fiery glance from her beautiful eyes seemed to greet every one, separately, to announce to them joy and hope. While they regarded her entranced with delight, the golden cloud grew denser, and covered the virgin with her luminous veil. It then gradually disappeared, with the golden splendor. The chorus of the Invisibles ceased, and the music died away in gentle murmurs. Upon the spot where the beaming apparition was visible, there now stood a tall priest, in a long, flowing black robe; a pale-blue light surrounded him, and rendered the dark outline distinctly visible by the clear background. Snow-white hair and a black mask made him unrecognizable to every one.

Extending his arms, as if blessing them, the masked one cried: "My beloved, the unknown fathers of our Holy Order of Rosicrucians send me to you, and command me to salute you with the greeting of life. I am to announce to you that the time of revelation approaches, and that the sublime mysteries of earth and Nature will soon be revealed to you. As the rose is unfolded in her glowing red, which has so long slept in her lap of green leaves, you represent the green leaves, and Nature is the rose. She will disclose herself to you with all her secrets. In her calyx you will find the elixir of life and the secret of gold, if you walk in the path of duty; if you exercise unconditional obedience to the Invisible Fathers; if you submit yourselves in blind confidence to their wisdom; if you swear to abstain from every self-inquiry, and to distrust your own understanding." [Footnote: So run the very words in the laws of the Rosicrucians.-See "New General German Library," vol. lvi., p. 10.]

"We swear it!" cried solemn voices on all sides.

"Swear, blindly, silent obedience to all that the Invisible Fathers shall announce to you through their directors

, or shall order you under the holy sign of the Rosicrucians by word or writing."

"We swear it!" again resounded in solemn chorus.

"Shame, disgrace, perdition, and destruction, be your curse," thundered the priest, "if you deviate in thought even from your oath; if you seek to ponder and reflect; if you measure by your own limited reason the dispositions and operations of the sublime fathers, to whom Nature has revealed herself, and to whom all the secrets of heaven and earth are disclosed. Eternal destruction, and all the tortures of hell and purgatory, be the portion of the doubting! Damned and proscribed be the traitor to the holy order! Listen, ye spirits of the deep, and ye spirits of darkness, withdraw from here in terror, ere the anger of the Invisible Fathers fall upon you like destroying lightning! Open, ye doors, that the wicked may flee, and only the good remain!"

With a wave of the hand the great folding-doors now opened, and a flood of light from the adjoining apartment revealed the drawingroom to be filled with the dark forms of men enveloped in black cloaks, hoods drawn over the heads, and black masks covering the faces-all kneeling close together and exactly resembling one another. No one moved, the doors closed again, darkness reigning. The priest was no longer visible, though continuing to speak: "Only the good and obedient are now assembled here, and to them I announce that life is to us, and death awaits beyond the door to seize the traitor who would disclose the holy secrets of the order. Be faithful, my brothers, and never forget that there is no place on the earth where the traitor is secure from the avenging sword of the Invisible Fathers. None but the good and obedient being here assembled, I now announce to you that the time of revelation approaches, and that it will come when you are all zealously endeavoring to extend the holy order, and augment the number of brothers. For the extension of the order is nothing less than universal happiness. It emanates alone from the Invisible Fathers, who link heaven to earth and who will open again the lost way to Paradise. The supreme chiefs of our holy order are the rulers of all Nature, reposing in God the Father. [Footnote: The wording of the laws of the Order of the Rosicrucians.-See "New General German Library," vol. M., p. 10.] They are the favorites of God, whom the Trinity thinks worthy of his highest confidence and revelation. If you will take part in the revelations of God, and witness the disclosing of the hidden treasures of Nature, swear that you will be obedient to the holy order, and that you will strive to gain new members.

"We swear it," resounded in an inspired chorus through the room. "We swear unconditional obedience to the Invisible Fathers. We swear to strive with all our means for the extension of the holy order.

"Unbelief, free-thinking, and self-knowledge are of the devil, who steals abroad, to turn men from God. The pride of reason seeks to misguide men, and lead them away from God and the secrets of Nature. The devil has chosen his disciples, who teach sinful knowledge and arrogant free-thinking, and who are united in Berlin in the Order of the Illuminati. The Invisible Fathers command you to fight this shameful order in word, deed, and writing. If any of you are acquainted with one of the members, you shall regard him as your most deadly enemy, and shall hate and pursue him as you hate sin and as you pursue crime. You shall flee his intercourse as you would that of the devil, otherwise you will be damned, and the Invisible Fathers never will forgive you, and the secrets of Nature will be withheld from you. Swear therefore hate, persecution, and eternal enmity, to the Order of the Illuminati. This I command you in the name of the Invisible Fathers."

"We swear it! We swear hate, persecution, and eternal enmity, to the Order of the Illuminati!"

"Every one who belongs to the order is damned and cursed; and if it were your brother or your father, so shall you curse and damn him!"

"We swear it!"

"Then I bring you the blessing of the Invisible rulers and fathers, who announce to you, through me, that every lost one which you gain for the Order of the Rosicrucians, and consequently lead back to God and Nature, is a step toward entering the holy sanctuary of revelation, where the elixir of life and the tincture of gold awaits you. Every cursed member of the Illuminati becomes one of the blessed when you lead him from the path of vice in penitence and contrition, and gain him to the Order of the Rosicrucians; and he who can prove that he has gained twelve new members for our holy order mounts a round higher in the ladder of knowledge, and rises to a new degree. At the sixth grade he passes from the Inner to the Middle Temple, where all the secrets of the universe and of Nature are disclosed. Be mindful of this, and recruit. Until we meet again, let the watchword be, 'Curses and persecution for the devil's offspring, the Illuminati!'"

"Curses and persecution for the devil's offspring, the Illuminati, we swear!"

"Now depart! Pay your tribute at the door, which you owe, and receive in return the new sign of the order, which will serve to make the brothers known to each other. Only the directors and the members of the sixth grade shall knock again at this door after paying tribute, and, receiving the new word of life, the guard will let them enter. Depart! I dismiss you in the name of the Holy Father and the Trinity!"

"Take this cloak, and cover yourself, that no one can recognize you," whispered a person near Wilhelmine, and threw a soft covering over her. "Will you now depart, or seek further in the way of knowledge?"

"I will seek further," answered Wilhelmine, firmly.

"You wish to enter the sixth grade, and learn the secrets of Nature?"

"I do!"

"Then I will give you the watchword of the order. But woe unto you if you reveal it! Swear that you will never betray it!"

"I swear it!"

"Then, listen!"

Wilhelmine felt a hot breath upon her cheek, and a voice whispered in her ear the significant words: "Now depart; pay your tribute, you cannot tarry here. Go, and return with the chosen!"

A hand seized her arm and conducted her to the door. Almost blinded by the bright light, she entered the adjoining apartment, where it seemed as if she saw through a veil muffled figures go forward to the centre, and deposit money in a marble basin which stood upon a kind of altar; naphtha burned in silver basins upon each end of it, and a muffled figure stood near.

Wilhelmine advanced to the altar, and with quick decision drew a diamond ring from her finger, and begged permission to deposit it instead of money.

The muffled figure bowed, and handed to her the new watchword-a picture of a Madonna, with the sign of the Rosicrucians underneath. Then she returned, and awaited at the door, with a little gathering, which must consequently belong to the sixth grade. Gradually the others had withdrawn; the naphtha-flames upon the altar were extinguished, and the wax-lights of the centre lustres had grown dim, and gradually extinguished themselves. Soon the doors were opened, and a bright light, as of the sun's rays, filled the hall. Three blasts of trumpets sounded, and a choir of immortal voices sang, "Enter, ye blessed ones! Enter, ye elect!"

They entered, whispering the sign to the guards, who stood with drawn swords, and passed on to the throne upon which stood a couch, surrounded with blooming flowers and covered with a cloud of silvery gauze. They soon discovered a secret something was hidden under the cloud, though they knew not whether it were child, woman, or man. They knelt upon the lower step of the throne, with folded hands and bowed heads, praying in a low voice. A solemn stillness reigned, the prayers died away on the lips, and the hearts scarcely beat for anxiety and expectation. Suddenly a voice, which seemed to come from the silver cloud, so distant and lofty, and rolling like majestic thunder, cried, "He comes, the chosen one! The Great Kophta comes!"

The folding-doors flew open, and the Great Kophta entered. Wilhelmine recognized in the majestic figure, enveloped in a flowing, silver-embroidered satin robe, with a band of brilliants around his brow, the handsome face of Cagliostro, beaming as if in an ecstasy. He saluted the brothers with a gentle voice, and bade them approach and touch his hand. As Wilhelmine did so, a thrill ran through her whole being, and she sank overpowered at his feet. He bowed and breathed upon her. "You are chosen, ye heavenly brothers," he said, in a sweet, melodious voice; "the secrets of heaven and earth are disclosed to you. I receive you in the Holy Order of the Favorites of God, which I founded with Enoch and Elias when we dwelt in the promised land. From them I received the Word of Life, and they sent me to the ancient sages of Egypt, who revealed to me in the pyramids the secret sciences which subject the earth and all her treasures to our command. He who devotes himself to me with fidelity will receive eternal life and the secret of immortality."

"We believe in thee, blessed one of God," murmured the kneeling ones; "we know that we receive life and salvation from thee. Bend to us, and give us of the breath of immortality!"

He bowed and breathed upon them, and they broke forth in words of thankfulness and delight.

Only Wilhelmine kept silent; she only failed to feel the magical influence, and he bowed again to her, fixing his great fiery eyes upon her. "Thou art called, thou art chosen," he said. "Mount to the tabernacle, and lift the veil."

She did as commanded, and beheld the figure of a wonderful woman stretched upon the couch as in deep sleep, clothed in transparent robes. "Lay your hand upon her brow, and direct in your thoughts a question to the prophetess of the order, and she will answer you!" Upon the lofty, white brow of the sleeping one, she laid her hand; immediately a smile flitted over her beautiful face, and she nodded. "Yes," said she, "you must believe. You dare not doubt. He is the elect, the holy Magus!" Wilhelmine trembled, for the answer was suited to the question. "Demand a second question of the prophetess," commanded Cagliostro. Again she laid her hand upon the brow of the sleeping one, and again she smiled and nodded with her beautiful head. "Fear not," she replied; "he will always love you, and will never reject you, only you must not lead him astray from the right course-but guide him to the temple of faith and knowledge. When you cease to do it, you are lost. Shame upon earth and damnation will be your portion." The answer was exact-for Wilhelmine had prayed to know if the prince would always love and never reject her. "Still a third question," cried Cagliostro. In silence Wilhelmine asked, and the prophetess answered aloud: "You will be countess, you will become a princess, you will possess millions, you will have the whole world at your feet, if you call to your aid the Invisible Fathers, and implore the power and miraculous blessing of the Great Kophta." Wilhelmine, deeply moved, sank overpowered upon her knees, and cried aloud: "I call upon the Invisible Fathers for aid and assistance; I implore the power and miraculous blessing of the Great Kophta." Suddenly, amid the rolling of thunder and intense darkness, Wilhelmine felt herself lifted up-borne away, as loud prayers were uttered around her. Then she felt herself lowered again and with the freedom of motion. "Fly! fly from the revenge of the immortals, if you still doubt, still mistrust!" cried a fearful voice above her. "Behold how the immortals revenge themselves." Immediately a light began to dawn before her, a form rose from the darkness like her own. She beheld herself kneeling, imploring, her face deluged with tears, and before her a tall, erect, muffled figure, with a glittering sword in his uplifted arm, which sank gradually lower and lower until it pierced her bosom and the blood gushed forth. Wilhelmine shrieked and fainted. She witnessed no more miracles, beard no more prophecies and revelations which the magi made to the elect. She beheld not the appearance of the blessed spirits, which at the importunity of the brothers flitted through the apartment. She heard not Cagliostro take leave of Baron von Bischofswerder, when all had withdrawn, saying, "I have now exalted you to be chief director of the holy order. You will at once receive orders from the Invisible Fathers, announced to you in writing, and you will follow them faithfully."

"I will follow them faithfully," humbly answered Bischofswerder.

"You will be rewarded by the knowledge of life and of money; you shall discover the philosopher's stone, and the secret of gold shall be revealed to you, when you perform what the Invisible Fathers demand."

"I will do every thing," cried Bischofswerder, fervently; "only make known to me their commands."

"They desire, at the present, that you seek to be the confidant of the Prince of Prussia. Gain his affection, then govern him, making yourself indispensable to him. Surround him with servants and confidants that you can rely upon. Inspire him with devotion to the holy order. Become, now, the friend of the prince, that you may, one day, rule the king. You are the chief of the order in Prussia; the more members you gain the more secrets will be revealed to you. The holy fathers send me afar, but I shall return: if you have been active and faithful, I will make known to you a great secret and bring you the elixir of life."

"When will you return, master?" asked Bisehofswerder, enthusiastically.

Cagliostro smiled. "Before the crown prince of Prussia becomes king. Ask no further. Be faithful!"

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