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Old Fritz and the New Era By L. Muhlbach Characters: 13193

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:02

"Wife," cried the General von Werrig, limping around the room, leaning upon his crutch, "here is the answer from our most gracious lord and king. The courier arrived to-day from the war department, and sent it to me by an express."

"What is the king's answer?" asked the general's wife, a pale, gaunt woman, with a pock-marked face, harsh, severe features, dull gray eyes, which never beamed with emotion, and thin, bloodless lips, upon which a smile never played. "What is the king's answer?" she repeated, in a rough voice, as her husband, puffing and blowing from the effort of walking, sank down upon a chair, and dried his fat, ruby face with a red cotton pocket-handkerchief.

"I have not read it," panted the old man. "I thought I would leave the honor to you, as you, my very learned wife, wrote the letter to his majesty."

His wife was not in the least astonished at this thoughtful conduct of her husband. She impetuously seized the sealed document, and, retiring to the window-niche, slowly unfolded it, whilst the old general fixed his little gray eyes upon her emotionless face. His own was bloated and red, expressing the greatest anxiety and expectation. Perfect stillness reigned for some minutes, only the regular strokes of the pendulum were heard from the clock on the wall; and, as the hands pointed to the expiration of the hour, a cuckoo sprang out of the tree painted over the dial, and eleven times her hoarse, croaking voice was heard.

"It gets every day more out of tune," growled the general, as he looked up to the old, yellow dial, and ran his eye over the cords which supported the weights. Then glancing around the room, he saw everywhere age, decay, and indigence. There was an old divan, with a patched, faded covering of silk, and a grandfather's arm-chair near it, the cushion of which the general knew, by the long years of experience, to be hard as a stone. A round table stood near the divan, covered with a shabby woollen cover, to hide the much-thumbed, dull polish. A few cane-chairs against the wall, an old black-oak wardrobe near the door, and the sewing-table of Madame von Werrig in the window-niche, completed the furniture of the room. At the window hung faded woollen curtains, and on the green painted walls some pictures and portraits, conspicuous among them a beautiful portrait of the king, painted on copper, which represented Frederick in his youthful beauty. It was a morose, sullen-looking room, arranged most certainly by its feminine occupant, and harmonized exactly with her fretful face and angular figure, void of charms. At last the general broke the silence with submissive voice: "I pray you, Clotilda, tell me what the king wrote."

She folded the paper, joy beaming in her eyes. "Granted! every thing granted!"

The general jumped up to embrace his wife with youthful activity, in spite of the gout. "You are a capital wife," he cried, at the same time giving her a loud, smacking kiss upon her cold, gray cheek. "It was the brightest, cleverest act of my life marrying you, Clotilda."

"I might well say the reverse, Emerentius," she replied, complainingly. "It surely was not sensible for me, a young lady from such a genteel family, and so spoiled, to marry an officer whom the king ennobled upon the battle-field, and who possessed nothing but his captain's pay-a fickle man, and a gambler, too."

"Yes, Clotilda, love usurped reason," soothingly replied the general; "love is your excuse."

"Nonsense!" cried Madame von Werrig. "Love is never an excuse; it is folly."

"Well, let us suppose, then, that you did not marry for love, only from pure reason, because you found that it was quite time to espouse some one; and that, in spite of your many ancestors and genteel family, no other chance was offered you, unfortunately no one but this captain, whom the king ennobled upon the battle-field of Leuthen on account of his bravery, and who was a very handsome, agreeable officer, expecting still further promotion. And you were not deceived. I was major, when the Hubertsburger treaty put an end to a gay war-life. You will remember I was advanced during peace; his majesty did not forget that I cut a way for him through the enemy, and he made me lieutenant-colonel and colonel, when I was obliged to resign on account of this infamous gout, and then I received the title of general."

"Without 'excellency,'" replied his wife, dryly. "I have not even this pleasure to be called 'excellency.' It would have been a slight compensation for my sad, miserable existence, and vexed many of the female friends of my youth if they had been obliged to call me 'excellency.' But my marriage brought me only cares, not even a title."

"Do not forget a lovely daughter, Clotilda. Our Marie is beautiful, wise, and good, and through her you will yet have tranquil happiness. For you say the king has granted all we wish."

"Every thing!" repeated the wife, with emphasis. "We have at last finished with want and care, and can count upon an independent, quiet old age, for God has been gracious, and forced you, from the gout, to give up gambling, and we are freed from the misery which has so often threatened us from your unhappy passion."

"At the beginning, I played from passion; afterward, I only played to win back what I had lost."

"And in that manner played away all we possessed, and played upon your word of honor, so that for years the half of our pension went to pay your gambling-debts. Heaven be thanked, the king did not know it, or we would have experienced still worse!"

"I pray you, beloved Clotilda, do not fret yourself needlessly about the past; it is all over, and, as you say, I am unfortunately a prisoner in the house from the gout, which shields me from the temptation."

"I did not say unfortunately; I said 'Heaven be praised, the gout had put an end to your fickle life.'"

"Then, thank Heaven, my dear; we will not quarrel about it. It is past, and, as the king has granted all, we shall have a pleasant life now."

"We will soon receive from our son-in-law a yearly pension, which will be paid to me, and I shall spend it."

The general sighed. "In that case I fear that I shall not get much of it."

"At any rate, more than I have ever received from your pension."

"There is but one thing wanting," replied the general, evasively, "Marie's consent."

Madame von Werrig gave a short, gruff laugh, which did not in the least brighten her sullen face. "We will not ask her consent, but command it."

The general remarked, timidly, shrugging his should

ers, "Marie had a very decided character, and-"

"What do you hesitate to speak out for? What-and-"

"I think she still loves the Conrector Moritz."

A second laugh, somewhat menacing, sounded like a challenge. "The schoolmaster!" she cried, contemptuously.

"Let her dare to tell me again she loves the schoolmaster; she the daughter of a general, and a native-born countess of the empire!"

"My dear, it was your fault-the only fault you ever committed, perhaps. How could you let such a young, handsome, and agreeable man come to the house as teacher to our daughter?"

"How could I suppose my daughter was so degenerated as to love a common schoolmaster, and wish to marry him?"

"It is truly unheard of, and it would make any one angry, my dear wife, for she insists upon loving him."

"She will not insist, she will do what she is commanded to do-my word for it! But why talk about it? It is better to decide the matter at once."

So Frau von Werrig rose with a determined manner, and rang the small brass bell which was upon the sofa-table. But a few seconds elapsed before a little, crooked servant appeared at the side-door, with her dirty apron put aside by tucking the corner in her belt. "Go to my daughter, and tell her to come down immediately!"

The servant, instead of hastening to obey the order, remained standing upon the threshold. "I dare not go," said she, in a hoarse, croaking voice. "Fraulein told me not to disturb her to-day, for she has still two bouquets of flowers to arrange, and two lessons to give, and she is so busy that she is not at home to visitors. She torments herself from morning till night."

"I order you to tell Fraulein to come down at once; we have something important to tell her. No contradiction! go, Trude!"

The servant understood the cold, commanding tone of the mother, and dared not disobey.

"It is nothing good that they have to tell her," grumbled Trude, as she hurried up the stairs which led from the first story into the little, low room in the attic, under the sloping roof. Here and there a few tiles could be lifted, which lighted the garret sufficiently to show the door at the end. "May I come in, my dear Fraulein? it is Trude."

"The door is open," cried a sweet voice, and Trude entered. It is a most charming little room, just that of a young girl. The bed has a snow-white covering, and white curtains, suspended from a hook in the wall around it. The same curtains at the low gable-windows, whose depth, so to speak, made a light anteroom to the real gloomy one in the background. In this little anteroom the young girl had placed all that was necessary for her pleasure and use. There were the most beautiful, sweet-scented flowers upon the window-stool; in a pretty metal cage was a light-colored canary. There were also pretty engravings, and upon the table stood a vase filled with superb artificial flowers, and before it sat the possessor of this room, the daughter of General and Frau von Werrig, surrounded with her work-tools, paper, and colored materials-a young girl, scarcely twenty, of a proud, dignified appearance, but simply and gracefully dressed. According to the fashion of the day, her hair was slightly powdered, and raised high above her broad, clear brow with a blue rosette, and ends at the side. The nobly-formed and beautiful face was slightly flushed, and around the month was an expression of courageous energy. As old Trude entered, the young girl raised her eyes from the rose-bud which she was just finishing, and looked at her. What beautiful black eyes they were as they sparkled underneath the delicately-arched, black eyebrows!

"Now, old one," said she, kindly, "what do you wish? Did you forget that I wanted to work undisturbed to-day?"

"Didn't forget it, my Fraulein, but-"

"But you have forgotten that up here, in my attic-room, I am not your Fraulein, but your Marie, whom you have taken care of and watched over when a child, and whose best and truest friend you have been. Come, give me your hand, and tell me what you have to say."

Old Trude shuffled hurriedly along in her leather slippers. Her old, homely face looked almost attractive, with its expression of glowing tenderness, as she regarded the beautiful, smiling face before her, and laid her hard brown hand in the little white one extended to her. "Marie," she said, softly and anxiously, "you must go down at once to your mother and father. They have something very important to tell you."

"Something very important!" repeated Marie, laying aside her work. "Do you know what it is?"

"Nothing good, I fear," sighed the old woman. "A soldier has been here from the war department and brought a letter for the general, and he told me that it was sent from the king's cabinet at Breslau."

"Oh, Heaven! what does it mean?" cried Marie, frightened, and springing up. "Something is going to happen, I know. I have noticed certain expressions which escaped my father; the proud, threatening manner of my mother; but above all the bold importunity of that man, whom I despise as one detests vice, stupidity, and ennui. They will not believe that I hate him, that I rather-"

"Marie, are you not coming?" called the mother, with a commanding voice.

"I must obey," she said, drawing a long breath, and hastening to the door, followed by Trude, who pulled her back and held her fast upon the very first step. "You have forbidden me to speak of him, but I must."

Marie stood as if rooted to the spot, her face flushed, and in breathless expectation looking back to old Trude.

"Speak, Trude," she softly murmured.

"Marie, I saw him to-day, an hour ago!"

"Where, Trude, where did you see him?"

"Over on the corner of Frederick Street, by the baker's. He stood waiting for me, as he knows I always go there. He had been there two hours, and feared that I was not coming."

"What did he say? Quick! what did he say?"

"He said that he was coming to see you to-day at twelve o'clock; that he would rather die than live in this way."

"To-day? and you have just told me of it!"

"I did not mean to say any thing at all about it; I thought it would be better, and then you would not have to dissemble. But now, if any harm comes to you, you know he is coming, and will stand by you!"

"He will stand by me-yes, he will-"

"Marie!" cried her mother, and her dry, gaunt figure appeared at the foot of the stairs. Marie flew down to the sitting-room of her parents, following her mother, who took her place in the niche at the open window without speaking to her.

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