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Old Fritz and the New Era By L. Muhlbach Characters: 21290

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:02

Late in the afternoon of the same day a travelling-carriage drove up before the hotel "King of Portugal," in the Burgstrasse, with two large black trunks strapped upon it behind the footman's box, and the postilion, sitting by the coachman, playing the beautiful and popular air, "Es ritten drei Reuter cum Thore hinaus!"

Count St. Julien descended the stairs, followed by the host, and nodded in a lofty manner to the two waiters and hostler awaiting him at the entrance, who returned it by a profound bow, at the same time not failing to see the white hand extended with the trinkgeld.

The host himself closed the carriage door, and the count departed amid the merry peals of the postilion, the former gazing after him with the satisfaction of one who has made a good bargain. The servants watched it, too, until it had disappeared around the corner of the next street.

At this instant the quivering tones of a post-horn were heard, and an open caleche appeared and stopped before the hotel with two large black travelling-trunks upon it, and the postilion upon the box blowing the popular air, "Es ritten drei Reuter zum Thore hinaus!"

The host observed the empty carriage with a smile, but the servants asked themselves astonished what it meant, and as they turned and saw Count St. Julien descending the stairs, they were startled. He offered them the usual trinkgeld, entered the carriage, and rolled away with a commanding nod.

The host seemed speechless with astonishment, and stood as if rooted to the spot. The servants stared after the carriage until it turned the corner; when just then a post-horn was heard playing the agreeable melody of "Drei Reuter," and a travelling-carriage with two large black trunks drove up to the door.

The servants turned pale, looking shyly toward the stairs. Slowly and with great dignity Count St. Julien descended, greeting them with a gentlemanly nod as he passed, and, extending his white hand with a trinkgeld, mounted his carriage, and drove away.

The host stood as if stunned, outside the door, looking right and left with unspeakable terror. The servants tremblingly fixed their eyes upon the stairs, no longer possessing the power to move, but heard the post-horn, and the carriage which drove up to the door the third time. Slowly and proudly Count St. Julien advanced. It was the same cold, grave face, with the thick black beard, and the powdered peruke, the curls of which overshadowed the brow and cheeks. He wore exactly the same dark-brown cloak over the black velvet dress. The white hand, with broad lace wrist-ruffles, reached them also a trinkgeld.

This time the fellows had scarcely self-possession sufficient to take the present, for every thing swam before their eyes, and their hearts one moment almost ceased to beat, and then palpitated with the feverish rapidity of terror.

"I would run away," murmured the chief waiter, as Count St. Julien for the fourth time drove away, "if my feet were not riveted to the floor."

"If I could move mine I would have gone long ago," groaned the second waiter, the clear drops standing upon his forehead. "It is witchcraft! Oh, Heaven! they are coming again, playing the 'Drei Reuter.'"

The count descended the stairs for the fifth time, whispered to the hostler, who was quite engrossed counting his money, handed the trinkgeld to the pale fellows by the door, and mounted his carriage, driving away amid the merry peals of the post-horn.

"Julius," murmured the steward, softly, "give my hair a good pulling, that I may awake from this horrible dream."

"I cannot," he whimpered, "my hands and feet are lame. I cannot move."

"I will," said the hostler, courageously stretching forth his hand, and pulling it so vigorously that the steward was fully convinced of the reality of things.

Again the post-horn sounded the "Drei Reuter;" again the carriage stopped before the door, and the count descended, giving to every one a gift like the "Maedchen aus der Fremde," and for the sixth time rolled away.

"We are bewitched; it is a ghost from the infernal regions!" groaned the steward.

"I cannot abide it any longer-I shall die!" said the second waiter.

"I do not mind it," said the hostler, as he jingled the money; "if they are ghosts from hell, the eight groschen do not come from there, for they are quite cool. See how-Ah, there comes the count again!"

For the seventh time he passed down the stairway, by the servants, who wore no longer standing but kneeling, which the count received as a proof of their profound respect, and slipped the money into their hands.

"Praise God, all good spirits!" murmured the head waiter; but neither the count nor the money seemed to be moved by the pious exhortation, for he quietly entered his carriage, and the eight groschen lay in the servant's hand, at which the hostler remarked that he would stand there all night if the count would only continually pass by with groschen. It pleased the count to descend the stairs yet twice more, divide the trinkgeld, and mount his carriage. As he drove away the ninth time, it appeared as if the Drei Reuter were determined to drive out of the gate and forsake the hotel "King of Portugal." The host waited awhile, and talked with the neighbors, who, roused by the continual blast of the post-horn, were curious to know how it happened that so many guests were departing by extra posts. Whereupon the host, in a hollow, sepulchral voice, his eyes glaring, and shrugging his shoulders, declared that there had been but one gentleman at the hotel, but nine times he had seen him drive away, and the devil must have a hand in the matter!

Shaking his head, he returned to the hotel, and found the servants busily counting their money, occasionally casting covetous looks toward the stairs, as if they hoped the count would again descend.

Exactly as Cagliostro had foretold, Minister Herzberg did not return from Sans-Souci until late in the evening, and then found Wilhelmine's letter in his cabinet.

Immediately the police were instructed to arrest Count St. Julien at the hotel "King of Portugal."

An hour later the chief of the police came to say that the count had already been gone two hours. He repeated the account of the host, corroborated by the servants, of nine different counts having driven away from the hotel.

Herzberg smiled. "We have to deal with a very clever scoundrel," said he, "and it is no other than the so-called Count Cagliostro, who was lately exposed as a bold trickster in Mittau and St. Petersburg, and about whose arrest the Empress Catharine is very much exercised. It would be very agreeable to the king to show this little attention to her imperial highness, and trap the adroit pickpocket."

"We might succeed in catching him in his flight," remarked the chief. "For the last six months the king has given orders that every passport should be examined at the gates, and the route of the travellers noted down, which is all registered and sent to the king. It would be very easy to discover by which gate he departed, and his route, and then have him pursued."

"That is well thought of, director; hasten to put it into execution, and inform us of the result." He returned in an hour to the minister's cabinet, shaking his head gravely. "Your excellency, it is very strange, but he is a wizard. This man has driven out of the nine gates at the same hour and minute."

Herzberg laughed. "This is one of his tricks, and by it I recognize the great necromancer."

"Your excellency, this is no trickery, but witchery. It is impossible for any one man to drive out of the nine gates at the same hour, in the same carriage, with two large black trunks and a postilion blowing the same melody, and provided with a correct passport, which he shows and is recognized as Count St. Julien, who is going to Paris by Hamburg. Here are the nine registers from the different gates, all the same, if I am not bewitched and do not read straight."

"This trick does honor to the count," said Herzberg, smiling. "To-morrow you shall accompany me to Sans-Souci and read aloud the registers to the king. Do you think it will be impossible to pursue the count now?"

"I should be very happy to follow your excellency's judgment in this matter, and arrest the rascal in any way that you could point out," said the director.

"I am convinced that he is in the city; and driving put of the nine gates at the same time was the best manner to escape being discovered," said Herzberg. "He is concealed in some one of the houses of the brothers, and we shall be obliged to let him escape this time."

In order the more securely to carry out the initiation of Prince Frederick William, in company with Bischofswerder and Woellner, Cagliostro had arranged his pretended departure. For a long time the prince had expressed an extreme desire to be received into the mysteries of the miraculous and holy order, of which he had heard his friends speak with so much reverence. But he had been put off from time to time with regrets and shrugs of the shoulders, and expressions of the impossibility of granting the request.

"The spirits do not always appear even to the consecrated," said Bischofswerder. "They make themselves known after many fervent prayers and implorings, and when we have withdrawn from every one who could entice us to doubt or disbelief. I fear that it would be impossible to conjure the spirits of the departed, so long as your highness honors a certain lady with your particular favor, who ridicules the sublime order and mingles with its enemies. How can they appear to those who have just been in the company of a friend of the Illuminati and unbelievers?"

"The spirit-world only reveals itself to the virtuous and pure," said Woellner, in a harsh, dry voice. "Its inhabitants cannot approach those who are not chaste and innocent, for sin and vice surround them with a thick fog, which keeps them at a distance from the clear atmosphere of the sublime. If you would call up the spirits, you must remove this woman who entices you from the path of virtue, and renders the sphere impure around you."

Despite the warnings and the great wish the prince had to be received into the spirit-world, and become a member of the highest grade of the Rosicrucians, he could not resolve to forsake her who had been his friend for ten years, and who had borne shame and degradation on his account, refusing eligible and rich men rather than leave him and become a legitimate wife. Wilhelmine was the beloved of his youth, the mother of his two dear chi

ldren, and she alone knew how to drive away the ennui which pursued the prince, with her amiable, subtle wit. Nay, he could not be so ungrateful, so heartless, as to reject her who had so tenderly loved him when young and beautiful, now that the first bloom of youth and beauty had faded!

Bischofswerder and Woellner recognized this difficulty, and applied themselves the more energetically for its removal. They supposed that the unexpected arrival of Cagliostro would very naturally appear to the prince as a special messenger, sent, without doubt, from the fathers, to accomplish his conversion. They announced to the prince that the Invisibles had taken pity upon his desire for knowledge, and had consented to permit him to gaze into the regions of the blest, although he wandered in the path of vice, and that he must hold himself in readiness to accompany the messenger whenever he should be sent to call him.

For this reason the crown prince had written to Wilhelmine that she should not expect him until the following morning, and he did not quit his room the entire day, with excited expectation awaiting the summons. As evening set in the prince was cast down, and quite of the opinion that the Invisibles did not deem him worthy to enter their pure presence, and thought that Wilhelmine must be the hinderance. Whilst he was reflecting whether to sacrifice his beloved to the salvation of his soul, the secret door gently opened, and two men, masked and wrapped in black cloaks, entered and placed themselves near the door. The prince did not remark their entrance, and was quite frightened as he chanced to turn, and saw these two immovable figures.

With quivering voice he demanded their mission.

In the same tone, as if one were an echo of the other, they answered, "We desire nothing, but you demand knowledge of the spirit-world, and would have its mysteries revealed to you, which the Invisibles will now grant you. Follow us, therefore!" They reopened the secret door; one of the masked preceded the prince, and the other followed him.

The prince shuddered at the thought that he might be rushing into some unknown danger, and intrusting himself to those who would misuse his confidence. He demanded to see their faces, declaring himself prepared to follow, when acquainted with his guides.

"It would then be better to remain," replied one of the masked. "He who lacks confidence is not worthy of it, and he who trusts only the Visibles, the Invisibles flee."

The prince recognized the voice of Bischofswerder, and smiled, but he knew not that it was permitted him to hear it to inspire him with courage.

"Well, so let it be; the fathers shall see that I am a believer," cried the prince.

Immediately one of the brothers put his own cloak, three-cornered hat, and mask upon his highness, still remaining cloaked and masked himself, much to the astonishment of the passive prince. "Come, now, the Invisibles await you," said one of the masked. The prince stepped courageously into the little corridor which led to the secret stairway, one brother preceding him, causing a soft light to illumine their path, the other following him.

In silence they reached the side-door of the palace, where a close carriage awaited them.

"Where are you taking me?" asked Frederick William, as he entered, followed by the two brothers.

"To the Invisibles," answered a strange voice.

Again the prince essayed to begin a conversation, his only response being, "Purify your heart and pray." Silently they galloped over paved and unpaved streets, the prince heartily repenting having been drawn into this adventure. He thought of his charming and beloved Wilhelmine, and half determined to give the command to drive to Charlottenburg. The fact of Bischofswerder being with him, and fearful of appearing weak and wanting in courage in the eyes of his friend and favorite, prevented him.

After several hours' drive, they stopped at the marble palace of Potsdam, near the one which the prince was accustomed to occupy. His highness looked cautiously around, and breathed more freely, as he felt that he was now surely among friends.

The white palace stood silent and deserted in the darkness, this palace at Potsdam being only used for the guests of the king. The carriage stopped at the side-door, where there was no sentinel, and they alighted, entering the palace, winding along the corridors in the same order as before, guided by the glimmering light of the one preceding. Solemn music, strange ringing sounds, fell upon the ear as they advanced. Sometimes they were sharp and cutting as glass, then threatening and penetrating as the wind, shrieking and moaning, causing one to be very nervous if not terrified.

The farther they proceeded the louder grew the sounds, and at intervals groans, moans and wailings were heard, as of those waiting and imploring for mercy.

One of the brothers now opened a door, and then placing themselves upon each side, the unknown voice announced to the prince that they had arrived at the long-sought-for goal.

"What have we come here for?" asked the prince.

"To behold that which you have many times petitioned to be permitted to see," replied Bischofswerder, gently encouraging and inspiring Frederick William. "The Invisibles have at last yielded to your wishes, and the spirits which you summon will appear. If your courage fails you, and you dread the presence of the departed, command to be reconducted to your palace, and we will obey; but renounce forever the sublime happiness of beholding the Invisibles and of holding communion with the spirit-world!"

"I fear not, but wish to be in the company of the spirits," answered the prince, proudly.

"Kneel," they commanded, permitting him to enter, "and thrice summon in a loud voice the names of three departed, who will answer your questions. Beware of approaching them, for their glance is death and their breath destruction! Therefore remain kneeling, as it becomes a mortal in the presence of an immortal. Hope and pray, brother!"

As the door closed upon the prince, and he found himself in such impenetrable darkness, he sank upon his knees, for he dared not advance, and retreat was impossible, in spite of heart-quakings.

The shrill, penetrating music ceased, and a voice from a distance called: "Summon thrice those that thou desirest to see."

"Marcus Aurelius, Leibnitz, and the distinguished elector," called the prince in a loud voice.

"Who summoned me?" was responded in hollow, sepulchral tones, and directly over the crown prince a blue, vaporous light was visible-at first only a cloud, then by degrees increasing and condensing itself into a human shape, until it took the form of a Roman warrior of the olden time; no other than Marcus Aurelius, in helmet and coat-of-mail, with a pale, earth-colored face and glaring eyes.

"Who summoned me?" repeated the figure. The prince's lips refused to respond, and shuddering he gazed upon the corpse-like face, so exact in feature to the old Roman emperor.

"You answer me not!" thundered the voice, "but I will tell you who you are-one lost in sin and an apostate!-the crown prince of Prussia, a future king, who will be called to govern a people, and knows not self-government! Turn from the path of vice while it is yet time; rise from the dust, that the ashes of retribution do not bury you in a living tomb, like the sinful Pompeians. No monument marks the place of the sinful; he sinks into the night of oblivion, or he is cursed by succeeding generations. Therefore turn from the errors of sin. Rise to virtue, that the blessed may approach you. I shudder in your presence. Woe to you! woe! woe!"

The cloud-portrait vanished, and darkness reigned for a moment. The prince cried in anguish: "I will hear no more; this air oppresses me-open the door-I renounce communion with the spirits; I will go out!"

The light reappeared in the dark room and another form hovered over the prince-of grave, obscure face, with a great peruke, staring at him. He recognized the distinguished philosopher Leibnitz, whom he had desired to see, but who now filled him with unspeakable terror. Like the former spirit, he also, when unanswered, reproached the erring prince, conjuring him to return to virtue.

As the menacing ghost disappeared, the prince felt for the door, and shook it with the power which terror lends, crying, "Open, open!" It opened not, and the third summoned, the great elector, Frederick William, appeared, with high, up-lifted arm, glittering eyes, advancing with angry mien, shaking his lion's mane against the erring son of his house, whom he menaced with curses and revenge, if he did not renounce the courtesan who had seduced him to vice and unchastity.

"I will become better," groaned the prince. "I will perform the wish of the spirits. Only have mercy on me-free me. Help! help! Open the door, Bischofswerder, I will do better. Open the door!"

This time it really opened, and a long train of dark, masked forms entered the dusky room surrounding the prince, wringing their hands, imploring him to turn from sin, and forsake the unholy woman.

They whimpered, they implored, sinking upon their knees, beating their clinched hands, and weeping: "Turn, beloved elect! Renounce Wilhelmine Enke; renounce vice! Repulse the seductress, and turn your countenance to Virtue which you have seen in all her beauty!"

"I will perform that which you demand," wept the prince, as the deathly terror and nervous excitement made him yielding.

"Swear!" cried the chorus of masks.

"I swear that Wilhelmine Enke shall no longer be my mistress. I swear by all that is holy that I will renounce her! I-"

Voice failed him; there was a ringing and buzzing in his ears; every thing swam before his eyes, and he sank fainting. The prince awoke after long unconsciousness, and found himself upon his bed in the new palace at Potsdam, Bischofswerder at his side, watching him with the tenderest sympathy. He bent over him and pressed his hand to his lips with a cry of delight. "Heaven be praised; my dear prince, you have awaked to commence a new life! You now belong to the virtuous and honorable, whom the Invisible Fathers bless!"

"Is it true, Bischofswerder," said the prince, languidly, "that I have sworn to renounce Wilhelmine Enke, and never to love her more?"

"You have sworn it by all that is holy, and all in heaven and on earth have heard your oath, and there is joy thereat."

The prince turned his head, that Bischofswerder might not see the tears streaming down his cheeks.

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