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   Chapter 26 UNDER THE STARRY HEAVENS.

Old Fritz and the New Era By L. Muhlbach Characters: 14190

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:02


It was a beautiful, clear, moonlight night. The world reposed in silence. Mankind with their cares and sorrows, their joys and hopes, had gone to rest. Over town and village, over highway and forest had flitted the sweet, consoling angel-Sleep. The sad were soothed, the heavy-laden were lightened of their burdens, to the despairing were brought golden dreams, to the weary rest. Sighing and sorrowful, he turned from those with a sad face whose conscience banished repose, and, ah! their number was legion. To the wakeful and blissful he smilingly glanced, breathing a prayer and a blessing; but these were few and far between-for happiness is a rare guest, and tarries with mortals but fitfully. As he glided past the joyful couple who, with watchful love and grateful hearts, sat in the carriage rolling over the silent, deserted highway, two tears fell from his eyes, and his starry wings were wider outspread to rush more quickly past.

"Look, my dear Marie, two stars just fell from heaven. They are a greeting to you, loved one, and they would say they guide us on our way."

"Oh, Philip, it is a sign of ill-luck! Falling stars betoken misfortune!"

She clung closer to his side, and laid her head upon his shoulder. He pressed her more lovingly to his heart. "Do not fear, dear Marie; separation only could cause us unhappiness-we have long borne it, and now it is forever past. You have given yourself to me for my own, and I am yours, heart and soul; we speed on through the night to the morning of the bright, sunny future, never more to be parted."

"Never!" she fervently murmured. "Oh, may God hear our prayer. Never, never to part! Yet, while the word falls from my lips, a shudder creeps through my soul."

"Wherefore this despair, dearest? Reflect, no one will be apprised of our flight till early morning, and then they will not know whither we have fled. Meanwhile we rush on to Hamburg, where a packet-ship sails every Wednesday for England; arriving there, we will first go to Suffolk, to my old friend the vicar of Tunningham. I was his guest many weeks last year, and he often related to me the privilege which had been conferred on the parish church for a long time to perform valid marriages for those to whose union there were obstacles interposed elsewhere. He will bless the union of our love, and will accord me the lawful right to call you my own before God and man. We will not return at once to Germany. I have many connections and literary friends in London, who will assist me to worthy occupation. Besides, I closed an agreement some weeks since with the publisher Nicolai in Berlin for a new work. I will write it in London; it will be none the less favored coming from a distance."

"My flowers and paintings will also be as well received in as in Berlin," added Marie, smilingly.

"No, Marie, you shall not work. I shall have the precious care of providing for you, which will be my pride and happiness. Oh, my beloved, what a crowning bliss to possess a sweet, dear wife, who is only rich in imperishable treasures, and poor in external riches! What delight to toil for her, and feel that there lives in my intellect the power to grant her every wish, and to compensate her in the slightest degree the boundless wealth of her affection! To a loving mind there is no prouder, happier feeling than to be the only source of support to the wife of his love-to know that she looks to him for the fulfilment of her slightest wish in life. I thank my Maker that you are poor, Marie, and that I am permitted to toil for you. How else could I reward you for all you have sacrificed for me?"

"You cannot suppose, dear Philip, that the riches of my obtrusive lover would have been any attraction to me. Money could never compensate for the loss of your love. You are my life, and from you alone can I receive happiness or unhappiness. At your side I am rich and joyous, though we may outwardly need; without you I should be poor with superfluity. I am proud that we in spirit have freed ourselves from those fictitious externals with which the foolish burden themselves. Oh, my beloved Philip, my whole soul is exultant that we are never more to part-no, not even in eternity, for I believe that love is an undying sentiment, and the soul can never be darkened by death which is beaming with affection."

"You are right, Marie, love is the immortality of the soul; through it man is regenerated and soars to the regions of eternal light. When I recall how desolate and gloomy was my life, how joyless the days dragged on before I loved you, I almost menaced Heaven that it created me to wander alone through this desert. The brightest sun's rays now gild my future, and it seems as if we were alone in paradise, and that the creation entire glorified my happiness, and all the voices of Nature shouted a greeting to you, dearest. Oh, Marie, if I lived a thousand years, my heart would retain its youthful love and adoration for you, who have saved me from myself, have freed my soul from the constraining fetters of a sad, joyless existence. Repose your head upon my heart, and may it rest there many happy years, and receive in this hour my oath to love, esteem, and honor you as my most precious treasure! You shall be wife, child, sister, and friend. My soul shall be frank and open to you; for you I will strive and toil, and will cherish and foster the happiness received from you as my most treasured gift. Give me your hand, Marie."

She laid it within his own strong, manly hand, gently pressing it.

The large full moon, high above them, lighted up these noble faces, making the eyes, which were bent upon each other, more radiant. Swiftly the carriage rolled on, the night-breeze fanning their cheeks and waving back their raven curls.

Moritz raised their clasped hands, and gazed at the starry heaven.

"We lift them up unto Thee, O God. Thou hast heard my oath, O Eternal Spirit, who dwellest among the stars; receive it, and bless the woman I love!"

"Receive also my oath, O my Maker. Regard the man to whom I have sworn eternal fidelity, bless him, and bless me. Let us live in love and die in constancy."

Moritz responded, "Amen, my beloved, amen!"

They embraced each other fervently. Onward rolled the carriage through the tranquil, blissful night. Oh why cannot these steeds borrow wings from the night-wind? Why cannot the soaring spirit bear aloft its earthly tenement? With divine joy and heavenly confidence you gaze at the stars. You smilingly interchange thoughts of the blissful future, whilst dire misfortune approaches, and will soon seize you in its poisonous grasp! Do you not hear it? Does not the echo of swift-prancing steeds ring in your ears? Do you not hear the shrieking and calling after you?

They listen only to the voice of tenderness speaking in their hearts, and would that the solemn quiet of this dialogue might not be broken by a loud word from their lips.

The post-horn sounded! They halted at a lonely house near the highway. It is the station. Change horses! There is not a li

ght to be seen. Three times the postilion blew a pealing blast ere they could awake the inmates. The window was at last opened, and a sleepy, complaining voice questioned the number of horses and the distance of the next post.

Slowly they were brought forward, and still more slowly were they attached to the carriage, and all arranged. What matters it? The night is lovely, and like a dream it seems to remain under the starry heavens, spread out like a canopy above them.

Does not your heart tell you that sorrow strides on like the storm? Do you not hear the voices still shrieking after you?

The postilion mounted his horse, and again the trumpet pealed forth its merry air, and was answered with a shout of triumph from the swift pursuers.

Marie raised her head from Philip's shoulder. "What was it? Did you not hear it?"

"What, my beloved, what should I hear? Do the stars salute you? Do the angels greet their sister upon earth?"

"Hark! there it is again! Do you not hear it? Listen! does it not seem as if one called 'Halt! halt!'"

"Yes, truly, I hear it now also! What can happen, love? Why trouble ourselves about the outer world and the existence of other beings?"

"I know not, but I am so anxious, my heart almost ceases to beat, with terror!"

"Halt! halt!" the wind carries forward the shriek, and above their heads it sounds like the screeching of ravens.

"Strange! For whom are they calling?" Moritz looked back along the highway. White and clear it lay in the moonlight, but, far in the distance was a black mass, taking form and shape at every moment!

Horsemen! horsemen! in full speed they come!

"Postilion! drive on! quick! Let the horses gallop! There is a forest near-drive us to that, that we may hide ourselves in the thicket! Onward, postilion! we are not thieves or murderers. A hundred thalers are yours, if you save us!"

The postilion beat his horses! In full chase they followed-more and more distinctly were heard the curses and yells.

"Oh, God in heaven, have mercy upon us in our need!"

"Faster, postilion!-in mercy, faster!"

"Halt! halt!-in the name of the king, halt!"

This startled the postilion, and he turned to listen, and again a furious voice yelled, "In the name of the king, halt!"

The postilion drew up. "Forgive me, sir, but I must respect the name of the king."

Forward galloped the horsemen.

"Philip," whispered Marie, "why do we live-why do we not die?"

He folded her in his arms, and passionately kissed her, perhaps for the last time. "Marie, be mindful of our oath-constant unto death!"

"Constant unto death!" she repeated.

"Be firm and defy all the storms of life!"

Marie repeated it, with heightened courage.

The horsemen surrounded the carriage, the riders upon panting steeds! Two officers in uniform sprang to the side, laying their hands upon Moritz's shoulder. "Conrector Philip Moritz, we arrest you in the name of the king! You are accused of eloping with a minor, and we are commanded to transport you to Spandau until further orders!" Upon the other side two other horsemen halted. The foremost was Herr Ebenstreit, who laid his hand upon Marie, and saw not or cared not that she shudderingly shrank away.

"My dear Marie, I come as the ambassador of your parents, and am fully empowered to lead your back to your father's house."

She answered not, but sat immovable and benumbed with terror, the tears rolling down her cheeks.

"You arrest me in the name of the king," cried Moritz; "I bow to the law. I beg only to speak to that man," pointing to Ebenstreit, with contempt. "Sir, dismount, I have important business with you!"

"We have nothing to say to each other," answered Ebenstreit, calmly.

"But I!" cried Moritz, springing forward, furious as a lion, "I have something to say to you, you rascal, and I will treat you accordingly!"

He savagely tore the whip from the postilion's hand, and struck Ebenstreit in the face. "Now," cried he, triumphantly, "I have forced you to give me satisfaction!"

The police swung themselves from their saddles, and Leberecht quickly dismounted. They clinched Moritz by the feet and hands. It was a desperate struggle, and Marie gazed at them with folded hands, praying without words. They seized him and held him fast with manacles. A shriek, and Marie sank fainting. Moritz's head sank upon his breast, almost in the agony of death.

"Take him to the next station, my friends," commanded Ebenstreit, "the carriage is already ordered to remove him to Spandau." He dismounted, and now took the place by Marie, who still lay in a dead faint. "Postilion, mount and turn your carriage, I retain you until the next station. If you drive quickly, there is a louis d'or for you."

"I will drive as if the devil were after me, sir!" shouted the postilion, and turned to gallop off, when Ebenstreit ordered him to halt, and Leberecht to get up on the box. Then turning to the officers, "Gentlemen," said he, proudly, "you are witnesses to the ill-treatment and insults of this woman-stealer. You will certify that the blood flowed down my face."

"I will myself make it known before all men," cried Moritz, with a contemptuous laugh. "I have insulted you and branded you."

"We will give our evidence," respectfully replied the officers. "As soon as we have delivered our prisoner at Spandau, we will announce ourselves to you."

"Then you will receive from me the promised reward of a hundred thalers. If you hush up the entire adventure, so that it is not noised about, after three months, still another hundred."

"We will be silent, Herr Ebenstreit."

"I believe you; a hundred thalers is a pretty sum. Forward, Leberecht, make the postilion push on, that we may arrive in Berlin before daybreak, and no one know of this abominable affair."

The postilion laughed with delight, at the thought of the louis d'or. Upon the box sat Leberecht, a smile of malicious triumph upon his face. "This has been a lucky night," said he; "we have all done a good business, but I am the most fortunate, with my three thousand thalers and a fine place. I wish he had waited an hour later, and then I should have had another thousand!"

Ebenstreit sat with triumphant smile also, by his betrothed. "Money is the king of the world-with it one can accomplish all things," said he to himself; "if I had been a poor fellow, the general would not have chosen me, nor the king have given me a title, nor could I have won back my beautiful bride. Money gives position, and I hope will give me the power to revenge myself for the pain in my face." He turned menacingly toward Moritz, who saw it not.

With bowed head, speechless, as if numb with the horror of his misfortune, he rode with fettered hands between the two officers, incapable of fleeing, as they had even bound a cord around his arms, each end held fast by one of the riders.

The stars and the moon shone down upon him as brightly beautiful as an hour previous. Oh, Marie, you were right, falling stars betoken misfortune! Your star has fallen!

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