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   Chapter 14 THE KING’S LETTER.

Old Fritz and the New Era By L. Muhlbach Characters: 15692

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:02


"Marie," said the general's wife, after seating herself upon the hard cushion of the divan, near which sat the general in his arm-chair, busily stroking his painful right leg-"Marie, take a chair, and sit near us."

Marie noiselessly brought a cane-chair, and seated herself by the table, opposite her parents.

"We have just received a communication from the king's cabinet," said the mother, solemnly. "It is necessary that you should know the contents, and I will read it aloud to you. I expressly forbid you, however, to interrupt me while I am reading, in your impetuous manner, with your remarks, which are always of the most obstinate and disagreeable kind. You understand, do you, Marie?"

"Perfectly, mother; I will listen without interrupting you, according to your command."

"This communication is naturally addressed to your father, as I wrote to the king in his name."

"I did not know that you had written to his majesty at all, dear mother."

The mother cast a furious glance at the gentle, decided face of her daughter. "You already forget my command and your promise to listen without interrupting me. I did, indeed, write to his majesty, but it is not necessary to tell you what I, or rather your father, solicited, as you will hear it in the answer from our most gracious king. It runs thus: 'My faithful subject: I have received your petition, and I was glad to learn by this occasion that you are well, and that you now lead a steady, reasonable life. Formerly you gave good cause of complaint; for it is well known to me that you led a dissolute life, and your family suffered want and misfortune from your abominable chance-games. You know that I have twice paid your debts; that at the second time I gave you my royal word of assurance that I would never pay a groschen for you again. If you gave yourself up to the vice, and made gambling-debts, I would send you to the fortress at Spandau, and deprive you of your pension. Nevertheless you played again, and commenced your vicious life anew. Notwithstanding which, I did not send you to prison as I threatened, and as you deserved, because I remembered that you had been a brave soldier, and did me a good service at the battle of Leuthen. For this reason I now also grant your request, that, as you have no son, your name and coat-of-arms may descend to your son-in-law. The name of Werrig-Leuthen is well worthy to be preserved, and be an example to succeeding generations. I give my permission for Ludwig Ebenstreit, banker, to marry your daughter and only child, and-'"

Marie uttered a cry of horror, and sprang from her seat. "Mother!-"

"Be still! I commanded you not to interrupt me, but listen, with becoming respect, to the end, to the words' of his majesty." And, with a louder voice, occasionally casting a severe, commanding glance at her daughter, she read on: "'And call himself in future Ludwig Werrig von Leuthen. I wish that he should honor the new name, and prove himself a true nobleman. Ludwig Ebenstreit must give up, or sell, without delay, his banking business, as I cannot permit a nobleman to continue the business of citizen, and remain a merchant. A nobleman must either be a soldier or a landed proprietor; and if your future son-in-law will not be either, he can live upon his income, which must indeed be ample. But I command him to spend it in the country, not go to foreign countries to spend what he has gained in the country. If he should do it, it will not be well with him, and he shall be brought back by force. You may communicate this to him, and he can judge for himself. I will have the letters of nobility made out for him, for which he shall pay the sum of one hundred louis d'ors to the 'Invalids' at Berlin. It depends upon him whether as a true nobleman he will not give my poor 'Invalids' a greater sum. The marriage shall not take place until the letters of nobility have been published in the Berlin journals, for I do not wish the daughter of a general, and a countess, to marry beneath her. You can prepare every thing for the wedding, and let them be married as soon as publication has been made. I will give the bride a thousand thalers for a dowry, that she may not go to her rich husband penniless; the money will be paid to your daughter from the government treasury at her receipt. As ever I remain your well-disposed king, FREDERICK.'

"And here on the margin," continued the general's wife, looking over to her husband with malicious pleasure, "the king has written a few lines in his own hand: 'I have given orders that the money shall be paid to your daughter in person, with her receipt for the same, for I know you, and know that you do not play, not because you have not the money, but the gout. If you had the cash and not the gout, you would play your daughter's dowry to the devil, and that I do not wish, for a noble maiden should not marry a rich husband as poor as a church mouse. FREDERICK.'"

A profound stillness prevailed when the reading was finished. The general busied himself, as usual, rubbing his gouty leg with the palm of his hand. Marie sat with her hands pressed upon her bosom, as if she would force back the sighs and sobs which would break forth. Her great, black eyes were turned to her mother with an expression of painful terror, and she searched with a deathly anxiety for a trace of sympathy and mercy upon her cold, immovable face.

Her mother slowly folded the letter, and laid it upon the table. "You know all now, Marie-that, as it becomes parents, we have disposed of your future and your hand. You will submit to their wishes without murmuring or opposition, as it becomes an obedient, well-brought-up daughter, and receive the husband we have chosen for you. He will come today to hear your consent, and you from this day forth are the betrothed of the future Herr von Werrig. Of course from this very hour you will cease the highly improper and ungenteel business which you have pursued. You must not make any more flowers, or give any more lessons. The time of such degradation and humiliation is past, and my daughter can no longer be a school-mistress. You have only to write the receipt to-day, and I will go with you to the treasury to get the money."

"I will not write the receipt," said Marie, gently but firmly. Her mother, in the act of rising, sank back upon the divan; and the general, apparently quite occupied with his leg, stopped rubbing, and raised his red, bloated face to his daughter in astonishment. "Did I understand rightly your words, that you would not write the receipt?"

"Yes, mother, I said so; I cannot and will not write it," replied Marie, gently.

"And why cannot you, and will you not write it?" said her mother, scornfully.

"Because I have no right to the money, and cannot take it, mother, as I will never be the wife of the man you intend me to marry."

The general sprang with a savage curse from his arm-chair, and would have rushed to his daughter, but his wife pushed him back into his seat, and approached Marie, who rose, regarding her mother with a firm, sad expression. "Why can you not be the wife of the man we have chosen for you? Answer me, WHY you cannot?"

"You know, mother," she replied, and gradually her voice assumed a more decided tone, her cheeks reddened, and an inspired expression beamed from her eyes, and pervaded her whole being-"you know, mother, that I can never be the wife of Herr Ebenstreit, for I do not love him. I despise and abominate him, because he is a man without honor; he knows that I do not love him, and yet he insists upon marrying me. If it were not so, if I did not despise and abominate him, I would not receive his suit and marry him."

"Why not?" cried the general, shaking his fist at his daughter.

"Why not?" cried the mother, with a cold,

icy glance, void of pity or anger.

Marie encountered these looks with beaming eyes. "Because I am betrothed to another," and the words came like a cry of joy from her heart-"because I am engaged to my beloved Moritz!"

"Shameless, obstinate creature, have we not forbidden it?" cried her father.

"Stop!" interrupted his wife, with a commanding wave of her hand, which silenced the obedient husband immediately. "It belongs to me to question her, for I am her mother, and my daughter owes me submission and obedience above all things.-Answer me, Marie, did you not know that we had forbidden you to speak to this man, or have any communication with him? Did you not know that I, your mother, had menaced you with a curse if you married this man, or even spoke to the miserable, pitiable creature?"

"Mother," cried Marie, vehemently, "he is not a poor, miserable creature. You may hate him, but you dare not outrage the noble, the good, and just man!"

"He is a good-for-nothing fellow," cried her father; "he has tried to win a minor behind the parents' back. He is a shameful, good-for-nothing seducer."

"He is dishonorable," cried the general's wife-"a dishonorable man, who has misused our confidence. We confided to him our daughter to teach, and paid him for it. He improved the opportunity to make a declaration of love, and stole the time from us to infatuate the heart of our daughter with flattery, and from his pupil win a bride."

"Oh, unworthy, shameful slander!" cried Marie, her eyes flashing with anger. "You well know that it is a vile scandal, that Moritz was no paid teacher. If he had been-if he had felt obliged to yield to the sad necessity of being paid for his valuable time, because he was poor, and forced to live by his intellect, he was a free man, and had the right to love whom he chose. He loves me, and I have accepted his love as the most precious, most beautiful, and most glorious gift of my life. Ah! do not look so angry with me, father; I cannot say otherwise. I cannot crush or deny the inmost life of my life.-Oh, mother, forgive me that I cannot change it! You know that otherwise I have been a most obedient daughter to you in all things, although you have never taught me the happiness of possessing a loving mother; though neither of you could ever forgive your only child for not being a son, who could inherit your name, and win a brilliant position, yet I have always loved you tenderly and truly, and never complained that the unwelcome daughter received neither love nor tenderness, only indifference and coldness from her parents."

"Beautiful, very beautiful!" replied the mother, contemptuously. "Now you wish to blame us that you are a heartless and thankless daughter.-We have not understood her heart, and it is our fault that her love has flown somewhere else.

"This is the language of romance. I have, indeed, read it in the romances of Herr Moritz, and my daughter has only repeated what she learned as a docile pupil from her schoolmaster. Very fine, to pay Herr Moritz to form our daughter into the heroine of a romance! She ought to have learned the languages, but has learned only the language of romances."

"You are very severe and very cruel, mother," said Marie, sadly. "I would not complain, only excuse myself, and implore pity and indulgence, and defend myself from the reproach of having been a cold, unloving daughter. Oh! God knows how I have longed for your love; that I would willingly prove that I would joyfully do every thing to embellish your life and make you happy. It gave me such pleasure to earn something for you with my dear flowers and lessons, and afford you a little gratification!"

"Ah! now, she will reproach us with having toiled for us and sacrificed herself. Husband, thank yourself for the victim who worked for you, who gave her youth for us that she might strew our life with roses."

"I have had enough of this talking and whining," cried the general, furiously beating the table with his fist. "My daughter shall not be a heroine of romance, but an obedient child, who submits to the will of her parents. You shall marry the man that we have chosen for you; the king has given his consent, and it shall take place. I command you! That is sufficient! I will hear no more about it; the thing is done with. Herr Ebenstreit is coming this afternoon to make you a proposal of marriage with our consent, and you must, accept him. I command you to do it!"

"I cannot obey you! Oh, do not force me to rebel against God's holy laws! Have pity upon me! I have obeyed you until now, and yielded to your wishes, although I thought it would break my heart sometimes. You have forbidden Moritz the house, and turned him out of doors like a servant, with scorn and contempt, and he has silently borne it on my account. You have forbidden me to write or receive letters from him, or ever to meet him. My mother would curse me if I disobeyed her, and I submitted. I have given up every thing, sacrificed every wish, and renounced my love. But you cannot expect more from me, or dare ask it. I can forego happiness, but you cannot ask me to consent to be buried alive!"

"And what if we should wish it?" asked her mother. "If we should demand our daughter to give up a romantic, foolish love, to become the wife of a young man who loves her, and who loves us, and who is rich enough to assure us a comfortable old age, free from care?"

"Marie," cried the general, in a begging and almost imploring tone, "Marie, prove to us now that you are really a good and grateful child-we have had so much care and want in our life, so many sorrowful days! It lies in your hands to make our declining days joyous and bright, and free us from want. We have often grumbled against God, that He did not give us a son; now make us to rejoice that He has given us a daughter, who will bring us a son and inherit our name through her children, and who will give us what we have never known-prosperity and riches. I beg you, my dear, good child, grant your parents the few last years of their life freedom from care!"

"And I, Marie," said her mother, in a softened and tender tone, which Marie had never heard from her-"I beg you also, be a good daughter, pity your mother! I have always led a joyless, unhappy life. I lived unmarried, a native-born countess, with proud relations, who made me feel bitterly my dependence; when married my existence was only trouble, privations, care, and sorrow. I beg you, Marie, teach me to know happiness, for which I have so longed in vain; give me independence and prosperity, which I have always desired, and never known. I pray, Marie, make us happy in bringing us a rich, genteel, and good son-in-law, Herr Ebenstreit."

Marie, who met the scorn and threats of her mother with firmness and a proud demeanor, trembled as she heard these severe and merciless lips, always so cold and harsh, now begging and imploring. At first she was quite frightened, and then terrified, and covered her face with her hands, her head sinking upon her breast as her mother spoke.

"Speak, my daughter," cried the general, as his wife was silent. "Speak, my dear Marie. Say the word, and we shall be all happy, and there will be no happier family found in Berlin, or the world even. Say that you will marry Ebenstreit, and we will love and bless you so long as we live. Do say yes, dear Marie!"

Her hands fell from her face, and stretching them out toward her parents, she looked at them in despair.

There was a fearful pause. "I cannot, it is impossible!" she shrieked. "I cannot marry this man, for I do not love him. I love another, whom I can never forget, whom I shall love forever. I love-"

"Herr Conrector Moritz!" announced Trude, hastily bursting open the door, and looking in with a triumphant smile.

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