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   Chapter 23 WITCHCRAFT

Old Fritz and the New Era By L. Muhlbach Characters: 17590

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:02


An hour later the palace Belvedere was silent and deserted; the guests had taken their departure. The duchess had her suite and commanded them to retire. Fraulein von Gochhausen alone remained with her mistress, chatting by the bedside, and recapitulating in her amusing style all important and unimportant events of the soiree, The duchess smiled at the mischievous remarks with which she ornamented her relation, and at her keen, individualizing of persons.

"Fraulein Gochhausen, you are the most wicked and the merriest mocking-bird God ever created," cried the duchess, "Have done with your scandals, go up to your room, piously say your evening prayers, and stretch yourself upon your maiden bed."

"Soon, duchess; only one thing more have I to call your attention to. There is a gossip afloat about the Werthers. I perceive it in the air, as the dove scents the vulture."

"You alarm me, Gochhausen; what good is it? You do not mean that the lovely Countess Werther-"

"Is not only very weary of her husband, but looks about for a substitute-a friend, as the ingenious ladies now call him. That is what I mean, and I know the so-called friend which the sweet sentimental countess has chosen."

"It is the Baron von Einsiedel, is it not?" asked the duchess. "That is to say, his younger brother, the gay lieutenant, not our good friend par excellence.

"Yes, I mean the brother, and I have warned and taunted the count this week past, but it is impossible to awake him from his stupidity and thoughtlessness."

"Again you are giving loose reins to your naughty tongue, Thusnelda. Count Werther is a thoroughly scholarly person, whom I often envy his knowledge of the languages. He has studied Sanscrit and the cuneated letters, among other ancient tongues."

"It may be that he understands the dead languages, but the living ones not in the least. The language of the eyes and inspiration he is blind to, with seeing eyes! My dear duchess, if you are not watchful, and prevent the affair with timely interference, a scandal will grow out of it, and you know well that it would be a welcome opportunity for our Weimar Philistines (as the Jena students call commonplace gossips) to cry 'Murder,' and howl about the immoral example of geniuses, which Wolfgang Goethe has introduced at court."

"You are right," said the duchess, musingly; "your apt tongue and keen eye are ever carefully watching, like a good shepherd-dog, that none of the sheep go astray and are lost. And you do not mind attacking this or that one in the leg with your sharp teeth!"

"Let those scream who are unjustly bitten, your highness! Believe me, the countess will not cry out; she will much more likely take care not to receive a well-merited rebuke. I beg your grace to prevent the gossip! Not on account of this silly, sentimental young woman, or her pedantic husband, but that our young duke and Goethe may not be exposed to scandal, as well as your highness."

"You are right-we must take care to prevent it. Has not the countess been absent at her estate four days?"

"Yes, your highness, it is just this that troubles me. She went away as sound as a fish, and has suddenly fallen very ill. No physician has been called, but, to-morrow, the count will commission his dear friend the baron to drive to his country-seat, and bring him tidings of his better-half."

"We must circumvent this. In the morning we will arrange a pleasure-drive, of the whole court, to the country-seat of Count Werther. It shall be a surprise. Let Fourier give out the invitations early to-morrow, for a country party, destination unknown. The distribution of the couples in the carriages shall be decided by lot. Take care that Lieutenant Einsiedel is your cavalier, so that when we arrive at the little Werther, he will already be appropriated, and then we will induce her to return with us and spend some time at Belvedere. Now, good-night, Thusnelda; I am very tired and need repose. Sleep already weighs upon my eyelids, and will close them as soon as you are gone. Good-night, my child-sleep well!"

The little deformed court lady kissed the extended hand, the candlestick, with only a stump of a taper in it, and withdrew from the princely sleeping-room, courtesying, and wishing her mistress good-night, with pleasant dreams.

The anteroom was dark and deserted. The lights were all extinguished, and Fraulein Goechhausen was, in truth, the only person who had not long since retired in the ducal palace. She was accustomed to be the last, accustomed to traverse the long, lonely corridors, and mount two flights of stairs to her bedroom upon the third story. The gay duchess, being very fond of society, had had the second story arranged guest-chambers and drawing-rooms.

Why should the little court lady be afraid to-night? She had not thought of it, but stepped forward briskly to mount the stairs. It was surely very disagreeable for the wind to extinguish her lamp at that instant, just at the turning of stairs, and she could not account for it, as none of the windows were open, and there was no trace of a draft. However, it was an undeniable fact, the light was out and she was in total darkness-not even a star was to be seen in the clouded sky. It was, indeed, true that Thusnelda was so accustomed to the way that it mattered little whether she had a light or not. Now she had reached the corridor and she could not fail to find the door, as there was but one, that of her own room. She stretched out her hand to open it, but, strange to say, she missed the knob! Then she was sure that it was farther on; she felt along the wall, but still it eluded her grasp. It was unheard of-no handle and not a door even to be found! The wall was bare and smooth, and papered the entire length. A slight shudder crept over the courageous little woman's heart, and she could not explain to herself what it all meant. She called her maid, but no answer-not a sound interrupted the stillness! "I will go down to the duchess," murmured Thusnelda; "perhaps she is awake, and then I can re-light my taper!"

The door was fastened; the duchess had locked the ante-room to-night for the first time.

Thusnelda tapped lightly, and begged an entrance humbly and imploringly. No answer, every thing was quiet. She recalled that the duchess had told her that she was very weary, and would sleep as soon as she was alone, which she undoubtedly had done.

Thusnelda did not presume to awake her by knocking louder. She would be patient, and mount again to her room. Surely she must have made a mistake, and turned to the left of the corridor, where there was no door, instead of the right, as she ought to have done. It must be that it was her fault. She groped along the dark flights of stairs to the upper gallery, carefully seeking the right this time, but in vain. Again she felt only the smooth wall. Terrified, she knew not whether she was awake or dreaming, or whether she might not be in an enchanted castle, or walking in her sleep in a strange house. Just here she ought to find her room and the maid awaiting her, but it was lonely, deserted, and strange-no door, no maid. Thusnelda, with trembling hands smoothed her face, pulled first her nose, and then her hair, to identify herself. "Is it I?" she said. "Am I, indeed, myself? Am I awake? I know that I am lady of honor to the Duchess Amelia, and that upon the upper story is my room. Do not be foolish, and imagine that witchcraft comes to pass; the door is there, and it can be found." Thusnelda renewed her search with out-spread arms and wide-spread fingers, feeling first this side of the wall and then the other.

By daylight the deformed little lady of honor must have been a very droll figure, in full toilet, dancing along the wall as if suspended by her outstretched hands. Oh, it was quite vain to seek any longer. It must be enchantment, and the door had disappeared. An indefinable dream crept over Thusnelda, and she was cast down. For the first time a jest failed her trembling lips, and she wept with anguish. Yes, she, the keen, mordant, jesting little woman, prayed and implored her Maker to unloose her from the enchantment, and permit her to find the long-sought-for entrance. But praying was in vain, the door was not to be found, it was witch craft, and she must submit to it. The rustling and moving her arms frightened her now, and when she walked the darkness prevented her seeing if any one followed her; so she crouched upon the floor, yielding to the unavoidable necessity passing the night there-the night of enchantment and witchery.[Footnote: See Lewes' "Life and Writings of Goethe," vol. 1., p. 408.]

Not alone for Fraulein Goechhausen was this beautiful May-night of sad experience with witches.

There were other places at Weimar. In the neighborhood of the ducal park, in the midst of green-meadows, stood a simple little cottage. Near it flowed the Ilm, spanned by three bridges, all closed by gates, so that no one could reach the cottage without the occupant's consent. It was as secure as a fortress or an island of the sea, and distinctly visible even in the night, its white walls rising against the dark perspective of the park. This is the poet's Eldorado, his paradise, presented to Wolfgang Goethe by his friend the Duke Charles Augustus. It was late as the possessor wound his way toward his Tusculum, as he familiarly called it, and, more attracted by the aspect of the heavens than by sleep, sought the balcony, to gaze at the dark mass of clouds chasing each other like armies in retreat and pursuit; one moment veiling the moon, at another revealing her full disk, and soon again covering the earth with dark shadows, until the lightning flashed down in snaky windings, making the darkness momentarily visible with her lurid glare. It was a glorious spectacle for the intuitive, sympathetic soul of the poet, and he yielded to its influence with delight. He heard the voice of God in the rolling of the thunder, and sought to comprehend the unutterable, and understand it in this poetical sense. Voices spake to him in the rushing of the storm, the sighing of the trees, and the rustling of the foliage. The storm passed quickly, a profound quiet and solemnity spread out over the nightly world, and it lay as if in repose, smiling in blissful dreams. The air was filled with perfumes, wafted to the balcony upon which dreamed the poet with unclosed eyelids and waking thoughts. The clouds were all dispersed; full and clear was suspended the moon in the deep, blue vault, where twinkled thousands of stars, whispering of unknown worlds, and the mysteries of Nature, and the greatness of Him who created them all.

"Oh, beloved, golden moon, how calmly you look down upon me, sublime and

lovely at the same time! When I gaze at you, moving so quietly, floating

in infinity, and contemplating reflect thyself in finiteness, I think of

you, oh Charlotte, who stands above me like the moon so bright and mild,

and I envelop myself in your rays, and my spirit becomes heavenly in

your light.

Mir ist es, denk ich nur an Dich,

Als in den Mond zu seh'n,

Ein suesser Friede weht um mich,

Weiss nicht, wie mir gescheh'n!

"Yes, like sweet peace, and quiet, sacred moonlight, my thoughts shall be of you, Charlotte; not like the glowing rays of the sun, or the cold light of the stars. Bright and beaming like the moon you are to me, spreading around me your soft light. Oh, beautiful golden moon, mirrored in the water, you lie as in a silvery bath, and would entice me to seek you in the murmuring depths. Hark! how the ruffled waves of the Ilm with repeated gentle caresses kiss the shore, rush from thence in golden links down the river! Sweet of the Ilm, I come, I come!"

Goethe hastened from the balcony, threw aside his apparel, plunged into the silvery flood, shouting with joy.

What heavenly pleasure to float there, rocked by the murmuring waves, gazing at the silvery stars and the golden moon, a lovely May night, listening to the voices of Nature! Add to that the perfume-laden breeze rising from the rain-refreshed meadows. How glorious to plunge into the cool stream, splashing and dashing the water, and then to shoot like a fish through the drops falling like golden rain! Suddenly, while swimming, Goethe raised his head to listen. He thought he heard footsteps on the poet's forbidden bridge. The moon distinctly revealed a peasant from Oberweimar, who would be early to the weekly market, and so serve himself to the shortest route while no one could see him.

"Such presumption deserves punishment, my good peasant, and if there is no one else to do it the ghosts must."

Listen, what a savage yell from under the bridge, and then another more unearthly!

The peasant, frightened, stopped suddenly, and looked down into the river. "Oh, what can it be?"

A glistening white arm is raised menacingly toward the bridge. A white figure, with a black head and long black hair, is seen plunging and splashing, while fearful yells are heard from the deep. Then it disappeared, to return, and menace, and yell, and plunge again.

The peasant shrieked with terror, and was answered with a cruel laugh. The white figure sank and rose from the river screeching and yelling, and the peasant shrieked also with terror.

"A ghost! a ghost! oh, have mercy upon us! Amen! amen!"

Fright lent him wings, and he fled, followed by the savage yells of the white figure, and never stopped until he reached Oberweimar, where he related to the astonished and terrified neighbors that there was a river-ghost just by the bridge which led to the cottage of the mad secretary of legation, Goethe, and which howled in the moonlight.[Footnote: This tradition of the ghost of the Ilm has been preserved in Weimar, since Goethe's nocturnal bath, until our time.-See Lewes, vol. i., p. 451.]

With the peasant also disappeared the ghost of the Ilm.

Like a happy child of Nature, refreshed, Goethe went to his room and then again sought the balcony, to throw himself upon the carpet and gaze at the blue starry vault, and enjoy the glories of heaven with thoughtful devotion, and think of Charlotte-only of her, not once of the poor Thusnelda von Goechhausen, who passed the night upon the stairs of the Palace Belvedere, and who, at last weary with fright and exhaustion, fell asleep, and was awakened by the Duchess Amelia in the morning, laughingly demanding why she preferred the landing of the stairs for a place of repose.

"Because I am bewitched, duchess, and my sleeping-room has disappeared from earth-because some cursed demon or wizard has enchanted me, this wicked-"

"Beware what you say!" interrupted the duchess; "it is most probably the duke that you are inveighing against, and calling a demon and wizard."

At this Thusnelda sprang up as if struck by an electric shock-"The surprise, this is what the duke promised me."

"Very likely," laughed the duchess. "The courier just arrived with a letter from my son to you, and I came to bring it myself, and found you, to my surprise, sleeping here. Read it, and tell me what he says!"

"Oh, listen, your highness!" cried Thusnelda, after having hastily perused the contents of the ducal missive.

"'I hope I have succeeded to surprise you! Demons and wizards have closed your doors, And weeping you slept on the stairway alone. All witchcraft has now disappeared. Go seek The surprise that from Berlin I brought you, Which I now offer for an atonement.'"

"An insolent fellow, indeed, is my son," said the duchess, "but you see, Thusnelda, he says, pater peccavi, and I am convinced that you will find something very pretty and acceptable in your room."

"I will not take it-indeed I will not," pouted the lady of honor. "He so fearfully tormented me last night. I assure your highness I was half dead with terror and-"

"And yet you will forgive him, Thusnelda, for the duke is your declared favorite; you dare not reproach him were he never so insolent, for you are just as much so, and not a hair's-breadth better. Come, go up and see what it is."

She went, and found four masons, who had been at work since daybreak to remove the wall and replace the door. Thusnelda was obliged to laugh in spite of the unhappy night she had passed, as she climbed over rubbish and ruins into her room, and met her maid dissolved in tears, who related to her that "the duke had had her walled in, for fear she would tell the trick to her mistress."

"And so you were really hermetically sealed?" said the duchess.

"Yes, your highness," whimpered the maid, "I thought I never should see daylight again. I wept and prayed all night. The only thing that consoled me was the duke's command, which Philip brought to me, to give this little box to Fraulein so soon as the wall should be taken away in the morning."

"Give it to me, Lieschen," cried Thusnelda, impatiently, her face beaming with satisfaction, however, when she opened the box. "Now, duchess, that is what I call a surprise, and the duke shall be, as he ever has been, my favorite. If he does sometimes play rude tricks, he makes it all right again, in a very generous and princely manner. See what a beautiful watch his highness has brought me, ornamented with diamonds!"

"Yes, it is very pretty; give it to me that I may return it to the duke, and not mortify him too much, as you will not wear it."

"I will accept it, duchess," cried Thusnelda, laughing-"and all is forgiven and forgotten."

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