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Old Fritz and the New Era By L. Muhlbach Characters: 20009

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:02

The king smiled, glancing at the retreating figure of the baron, and approached the window to peep through the little green glass panes to see him as he passed by.

"A sly fox," said he, smiling, "but I will prove to him that we understand fox-hunting, and are not deceived by cunning feints."

"Will your majesty really break up to-day?" asked Von Herzberg, upon returning.

"Yes, my dear minister. That is to say, I do not wish to, but I must, in order to give the negotiations for peace a war-like character. The enemy asks for delay to finish their preparations for war-not peace. The negotiations for the latter emanate from the empress, but the conditions concerning Anspach come from the emperor. It is the Eris-apple, which he casts upon the table, by which his imperial mother and I would gladly smoke the pipe of peace. It is incumbent upon you, Herzberg, to negotiate for peace, while I pick up the apple and balance it a little upon the point of my sword. I shall leave early to-morrow, but I would speak with you before I set out. You must be weary with the journey, so rest awhile now, then dine with me, and afterward go to the conference."

"Sire, will you not receive my protege, Conrector Moritz?"

"Did you not say that he begged for a secret audience?"

"Yes, sire, he has for this purpose travelled the long distance from Berlin, and I assure your majesty, upon my word of honor, that I have not the least suspicion what his petition may be."

"Eh bien, say to your protege that I grant him the sought-for interview on your account, Herzberg. You are such a curious fellow-you are always petitioning for others instead of yourself, and the benefits which you ought to receive go to them. Let Moritz enter, and then try to sleep a little, that you may be wide awake to confer with Baron von Thugut."

Minister von Herzberg withdrew, and immediately the pale, earnest face of Conrector Philip Moritz appeared in the royal presence.

The king regarded him with a prolonged and searching glance, the noble, resolute face of whom was pallid with deep grief, but from whose eyes there beamed courageous energy. "Are you the translator of the chapters from Tacitus, which my Minister Herzberg handed me?" asked the king, after a pause.

"Yes, sire," gently answered Moritz.

"I am told that it is ably done," continued his majesty, still attentively observing him. "You will acknowledge that it is exceedingly difficult to render the concise style of Tacitus into the prolix, long-winded German?"

"Pardon me, sire," replied Moritz, whose youthful impetuosity could with difficulty be diverted from the real object of his pilgrimage. "Our language is by no means long-winded, and there is no difficulty in translating Latin authors into German, which equals any living tongue in beauty and sonorousness, and surpasses them all in depth of thought, power, and poesy."

"Diable!" cried the king, smiling; "you speak like an incarnate German philologist, who confounds the sound of words with profound thought. You will acknowledge that until now our language has not been much known."

"Sire," answered Moritz, "Martin Luther, in his translation of the Bible three hundred years since, employed hundreds of beautiful, expressive formations."

"He is not only a learned man," said the king to himself, "but he seems an honorable one; and now, as I have proved his scholarly attainments, I must indulge his impatience." The king's penetrating glance softened, and his features changed their severe expression. "The Minister von Herzberg informed me that he found you by the roadside, and that you would journey hither on foot."

"It is true, sire."

"Why did you travel in that manner?"

"Sire, I desired, as the poor, heavily-laden pilgrims of the middle ages, to make the pilgrimage to the Holy Father at Rome, who was the king of kings. Every step in advance seemed to them to lighten their burden and enhance their happiness. Your majesty is in our day what the pope was held to be in the middle ages, therefore I have wandered as a pilgrim to my king, who has the power to bind and to loose, and from whom I must not only implore personal happiness, but that also of a good and amiable young girl."

"Ah! it concerns a love-affair. As I now look at you, I can understand that. You are young and passionate, and the maidens have eyes. How can I help you in such an adventure?"

"Sire, by not granting a title to a certain person, or if it must be granted, annul the conditions attendant upon it."

"I do not understand you," answered the king, harshly. "Speak not in riddles. What do you mean?"

"General Werrig von Leuthen has addressed himself to you, sire, praying for the consent of your majesty to the marriage of his daughter with the banker Ebenstreit. Your majesty has consented, and added that Herr Ebenstreit shall take the name of his future father-in-law, and the marriage shall take place as soon as the title of nobility has been made out."

The king nodded. "For which the new-made nobleman has to pay a hundred louis d'ors to the Invalids at Berlin. But what is that to you? And what connection has Herr Ebenstreit's title to do with Conrector Moritz?"

Moritz's face brightened, and, deeply moved, he answered: "Sire, I love the daughter of General von Leuthen, and she returns my love. By not ennobling Ebenstreit, it lies in your power, most gracious majesty, to make two persons the most blessed of God's creatures, who desire nothing more than to wander hand in hand through life, loving and trusting each other."

"Is that all?" asked the king, with a searching glance.

Moritz quailed beneath it, and cast down his eyes. "No!" he replied. "As I now stand in the presence of your majesty, I am sensible of the boldness of my undertaking, and words fail me to express what is burning in my soul. Oh! sire, I only know that we love each other, and that this love is the first sunbeam which has fallen upon my gloomy and thorny path of life, and awakened in my lonely heart all the bloom of feeling. You smile, and your great spirit may well mock the poor human being who thinks of personal happiness, when for an idea merely thousands are killed upon the field of battle. My life, sire, has been a great combat, in which I have striven with all the demons escaped from Pandora's box. I have grown up amid privations and need. I have lived and suffered, until God recompensed my joyless, toiling, hungered existence by this reciprocated love, which is a beautiful ornament to my life, and is life itself, and to renounce it would be to renounce life. I am young, sire, and I long for the unknown paradise of earthly happiness, which I have never entered until now, and which I can only attain led by the hand of my beloved. I yearn just once, as other privileged men, to bask in the sunshine of happiness a long, beautiful summer day, and then at the golden sunset to sink upon my knees and cry, 'I thank Thee, O God, that in Thy goodness I have recognized Thy sublimity, and that Thou hast revealed thy glory to me.' All this appears of little importance to your majesty, for the heart of a king is not like that of other men, and the personal happiness of individuals appears a matter of little account to him who thinks and works for the good of an entire nation. But the fly, sire, which is sunning itself upon the plumes of the helmet of a victorious king, has its right to happiness, for God created it with the same care and love that He created the noblest of His creatures-man! and it would be cruel to kill it without necessity. Sire, I do not extol myself. I know that in your eyes I am no more than the fly upon your helmet, but I only implore you to grant me my life, for God has given it to me."

"You mean by this that I shall forbid General von Leuthen to marry his daughter to the rich man who seeks her, and to which marriage, understand me well, I have already given my consent."

"Sire, I only know that this union drives not only me to despair, but one of the noblest and best of God's creatures. Fraulein von Leuthen does not love the bridegroom forced upon her; she detests him, and she has good reason to, for the banker Ebenstreit is a cold-hearted, purse-proud man, enfeebled by a voluptuous, vicious life, and seeks nothing nobler and more elevated in the young girl to whom he has offered his hand, than the title and noble name which she can procure for him. Your majesty, I implore not for myself, but for the daughter of a man who once had the good fortune to save your life in battle! Have pity upon her, and do not sacrifice her to an inconsolably hopeless life by the side of an unloved and detested husband!"

The king slowly shook his head. "You forget that the general to whom I am indebted for this favor has begged my consent to this marriage, and that I have granted it."

"Sire, I conjure you to recall it! Upon my knees I implore you not to grant it! Do not make two people unhappy, who only beg of your majesty the permission to love and live with each other!" Moritz threw himself at the king's feet, praying with clasped hands, his face flushed with deep emotion, and his eyes dimmed with tears.

"Rise!" commanded Frederick, "rise, do not kneel to me as to a God. I am a feeble mortal, subject to the same ills which threaten you and the whole human race. Rise, and answer me one question-are you rich?"

"No," answered Moritz, proudly raising his head; "no, I am poor."

"Do you know that Fraulein von Leuthen is poor? Her father is worse off than Job, for he is in debt."

"If General von Leuthen's daughter were rich, or even moderately well off, I never would have presumed to address your majesty on the subject, for fear that you might misconstrue my intentions, and suppose that my love was inspired by self-interest. Fortunately, Marie possesses nothing but her noble, beautiful self. She leads a joyless existence under the severe discipline of her

cold-hearted parents; and therefore I can truthfully say, that with me she will lose nothing, but gain what she has never known-a tranquil, happy life, protected by my love."

"How much salary do you receive as teacher?"

"Majesty, as conrector of the college attached to the Gray Monastery, three hundred and fifty dollars."

"Do you expect to live upon that yourself, and support a family besides?"

"Sire, I shall earn money in other ways, as I have already done. I shall write books. The publishers tell me that I am a favorite author, and they pay me well."

"If on the morrow you should fall ill, your income would vanish, and your family and you would starve together. No! no! you are an idealist, you dream how life should be, and not as it is in truth! I have listened to you, thinking that you would present some forcible argument upon which to found your pretensions, but I hear only the ravings of a lover, who believes the world turns upon the axis of his happiness. Let me tell you that love is an ephemera, which merrily sports in the sunlight a few short hours, and dies at sunset. Should a king forfeit his word for such a short-lived bliss? Should he reward a man to whom he is indebted by depriving him of a rich son-in-law, who is agreeable to him, and substituting a poor one, from whom he can never hope to receive a comfortable maintenance? You young people are all alike. You think only of yourselves, and it is a matter of little consequence to you if the aged pine away and die, provided you build up happiness on their graves! I ask you, who have talked so much about your own wishes, and those of your beloved, where is it written that man must be happy, that there is a necessity to make him so? Do you suppose that I have ever been happy-who have a long, active life in retrospection? Mankind have taken good care that I should not sip this nectar of the gods, and have taught me early to renounce it. Life is not consumed in pleasure, but in toil, and I believe its only happiness consists in the fact that at last, when weary and worn, we will sink into the grave-to an eternal rest! Every human being must work according to his abilities, and in the position which Fate has assigned to him. To maintain this position, his honor is at stake-the best and most sacred gift confided to man. You will not desert it-not despair in life because your dream of bliss is not realized."

"Sire," answered Moritz, with a cry of anguish, "it is no dream, but a reality!"

"Happiness is only ideal," said the king, slowly shaking his head. "What we sigh for to-day, we curse on the morrow as a misfortune. Let this serve as a lesson to you. Toil on-you are a scholar; woo Science for your bride. Her charms will never fade. In youth as in old age she will attract you by her beauty and constancy-that which you cannot hope for from women."

"Sire," asked Moritz, in deep dejection, "will you not grant the petition of my heart? Will you condemn this poor, innocent young girl who prays your majesty through me, to a long, joyless existence, to a daily-renewing sorrow?"

The king shrugged his shoulders. "I have already said that happiness is imaginary; I might have added unhappiness also. General von Leuthen's daughter will accustom herself to the misfortune of being a rich man's wife, and finally will drive with a smiling face in her four-in-hand gilded carriage!"

"Sire, I swear to you that you mistake this dear, noble-hearted young girl, you-"

"Enough!" interrupted the king. "I have given my consent to General von Leuthen, and I cannot recall it. Moreover, the marriage of the daughter of my general with you would be a misalliance-ridiculous. In the republic of intellect and science, you may have a very high position, but in my earthly kingdom you hold too modest a one to presume to raise your eyes to a noble young lady. I regret that I can offer you no other consolation than to listen to reason, and be resigned. As we cannot bring down the moon to earth, we must content ourselves with a lamp to light up our small earthly abode. If this ever should fail you, then come to me and I will assist you. I cannot, to be sure, give you the moon, for that belongs as little to me as the bride of the rich Herr Ebenstreit von Leuthen. One cannot give away that which one does not possess. Farewell! return to Berlin, and resign yourself bravely to your fate. Accustom yourself to the thought that in fourteen days Fraulein von Leuthen will become the wife of your wealthy rival. The wedding ceremony awaits only the papers of nobility, for which my order has already been forwarded to Berlin. I moreover propose to you not to return to the college at once, but travel for two weeks. I will be responsible for your absence, and provide you with the necessary means. Now tell me whether you accept my proposal?"

"Thanks to your majesty, I cannot," answered Moritz, with calm dignity. "There is but one balm which my king could grant me. Money is not a plaster to soothe and heal a wounded heart. Sire, I beg you to dismiss me, for I will return at once to Berlin."

"I hope that you have not the foolish idea to return on foot," said the king. "My courier will leave in an hour, and there are two places in the coupe, accept one of them."

"Sire," said Moritz, gloomily, "I-" suddenly the words died on his lips, and his eyes beamed with an unnatural fire, which paled under the observing glance of the king. "I thank you," said Moritz, gasping, "I will accept it."

The king nodded. "Au revoir, in Berlin! When I return after the campaign I will send for you. You will then have learned to forget your so-called misfortune, and smile at your pilgrimage!"

"I cannot think so, sire."

"I am convinced of it. Farewell."

Moritz answered the royal salutation with a mute bow, and withdrew with drooping head and sorrowful heart. The king continued to regard him with an expression of deep sadness. "Ah!" he sighed, "how enviable are those who can still believe in love's illusion, and who have not awakened from their dream of bliss by sad experience or age! How long since I have banished these dreams-how long I-"

The king ceased, his head sank back upon his chair, his large, fiery eyes, peering into the distance, as if he would re-people it with the memories of youth, with the delusions from which he had so long awakened. Those lovely, charming forms flitted before him one by one which had then captivated him: the beautiful Frau von Wrechem, his first love, and to whom he had vowed eternal constancy; another sweet, innocent face that suffered shame and degradation for him-"oh! Doris, Doris, dream of my youth, fly past!"-and now the face with the large eyes and energetic features, which turned so tenderly to him, that of his sister Frederika, who from affection to the crown prince had sacrificed herself to an unloved husband in order to reconcile the son with the father, and preserve for him the inheritance to the throne; still another calm and gentle face, with the expression of sorrowful resignation in the deep-blue eyes, that of his wife, who had so passionately loved him, and had faded away at his side unloved! All past-past. A new face arose, the pretty Leontine von Morien, the tourbillon of the princely court at Rheinsberg, who pined away in sighs. Now passed the sweetest and loveliest of all. The king's eyes, which stared into empty space, now beamed with glad recognition. The heart which had grown old and sobered beat with feverish rapidity, and the compressed lips whispered, sighing, "Barbarina!" She stood before him in her bewitching beauty, with the charming smile upon her ruby lips, and passionate love beaming from her flashing eyes. "Oh, Barbarina!" The king rose, a cold chill crept over him. He looked around so strangely in the desolate, darkened room, as if he could still see this form which greeted him with the sad smile and tearful glance. No one was there. He was quite alone. Only the feeble echo of far-distant days repeated the device of his youth-of his life: "Soffri e taci! Resignation alone has remained true to me. But no-there is still another friend, my flute. Come, you faithful companion of my life! You have witnessed my sorrows, and from you I have nothing to conceal!" He tenderly regarded it, for it was long since he had taken it from its case. The sorrows and cares of life, the suffering from the gout which raged in his teeth, and sad, sobering old age, had caused him to lay it aside, but with the habit of affection he carried it everywhere. Frederick felt himself grow young again with the souvenirs of former days, and essayed to recall the echo of tenderer feelings upon his flute. The music of his heart was hushed, the melodious tones of former days would not return. The king laid it aside with an impatient movement. "Nothing is lasting in life," he murmured. A flourish of trumpets, a peal of drums announced that the regiment was passing which would parade before the king. What are they playing, which rouses the lonely king with bright memories and shouts of victory? It is the march which his majesty composed after the brilliant victory of Hohenfriedberg. The king raised his eyes gratefully to heaven, repeating aloud: "There is something lasting in life. Love ceases and music dies away, but the good we have accomplished remains. The most glorious of earthly rewards is granted to those who have achieved great deeds-the mortal becomes immortal-the gods ceding to him that which is more elevating than love or happiness-fame. Ye trumpets of Hohenfriedberg, ye will still quiver when I am gone, and relate to succeeding generations about 'Old Fritz.' Such tales are well worthy to live and suffer for! I am coming, ye trumpets of fame." With youthful activity and beaming face the king went out to receive his generals, who saluted him with silent reverence, and his soldiers, who greeted their beloved commander and king with an exultant shout.

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