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Old Fritz and the New Era By L. Muhlbach Characters: 16291

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:02

The joy which Bischofswerder said, reigned in heaven and upon earth over the return of the crown prince to the path of virtue, in having forsaken Wilhelmine Enke, was of but short duration.

The Invisibles and the pious Rosicrucians soon learned that sagacious and cunning woman defied the spirits and abjured the oaths.

Since the night of his communion with the departed, Frederick William had never visited Charlottenburg-never seen the house which contained all that he held most dear; he had returned Wilhelmine's letters unopened, and had even had the courage to refuse himself to the children, who came to see him.

If he had been left to consult his own heart, he would not probably have had sufficient resolution to have done this; Bischofswerder and Woellner never left him for a moment, as they said the Invisible Fathers had commanded them to tarry with the much-loved brother in these first days of trial and temptation, and to elevate and gladden him with edifying conversations and scientific investigations.

The prayers and exhortations were the duty of Woellner, who, besides this, continued his daily discourses upon the administration of government, preparing the prince for the important command of the royal regiments, which they hoped favorable destiny would soon grant him.

The scientific researches were the part of Bischofswerder, and he entered upon his duties with the zeal and pleasure of an inquiring mind, itself hopeful and believing.

In the cabinet arranged in the new palace at Potsdam, the prince and his dear Bischofswerder worked daily, many hours, to discover the great hope of the alchemist-the philosopher's stone. Not finding it, unfortunately, they brewed all sorts of miraculous drinks, which were welcome to the prince as the elixir of eternal youth and constant love. In the evenings they communed with the spirits of the distinguished departed, which, moved at the earnest prayers of Woellner, and the fervent exhortation of the crown prince, always had the goodness to appear, and witness their satisfaction for their much-loved son, as they called him, for continuing brave and faithful, and not falling into the unholy snares of the seductress.

The crown prince, however, experienced not the least self-contentment. Each day renewed the yearning for the beloved of his youth and for his children, for which those of his wife were no compensation-neither the silent, awkward Prince Frederick William, nor his crying little brother. In his dreams he saw Wilhelmine dissolved in tears, calling upon him in most tender accents, and when he awoke, it was to an inconsolable grief. He wept with heart-felt sorrow; his oath alone kept him from hastening to her; it bound him, and fettered his earnest wish to see her, making him sad and melancholy.

The spirits had no pity nor mercy upon him. His two confidants encouraged his virtue and piety from morning till night, exalting his excited fancy with their marvellous relations and apparitions.

One day as they were on the point of commencing the morning prayers to the Invisibles, a royal footman appeared, with the command to betake themselves to Sans-Souci, where the king awaited them.

A royal carriage was in attendance to convey them. There was no alternative but obedience.

"Perhaps Fate destines us to become martyrs to the holy cause," said Woellner, devoutly folding his hands.

"We may never enjoy the happiness of seeing our dear brothers of the confederacy again," sighed Bischofswerder. "Our spirits will always be with you, my prince, and the Invisible Fathers will protect you in all your ways."

The crown prince, deeply moved, separated from his friends with tears in his eyes; but as the carriage rolled away he felt relieved as of an oppressive burden, and breathed more freely.

At the same time a footman entered, bearing upon a golden salver a letter for the prince. Unobserved and free to act, he read it, and as he sat musingly thinking over its contents, so tender and affectionate, he re-read it, and rising, made a bold resolve, his face beaming with happiness, to order his carriage, which he did, and in a few moments more drove at full speed away from the palace.

Bischofswerder and Woellner, in the mean time, arrived at Sans-Souci. The footman awaiting them conducted them at once through the picture-gallery, into the little corridor leading to the king's cabinet, and there left them to announce them to his majesty. Both gentlemen heard their names called in a loud voice, and the response of the king: "Let them wait in the little corridor until I permit them to enter."

The footman returned and with subdued voice made known the royal command, and departed, carefully closing the door.

There was no seat in the narrow, little corridor, and the air was close and oppressive.

They could hear voices in mingled conversation; sometimes it seemed as if the king were communicating commands; again, as if he dictated in a suppressed voice. The Rosicrucians knew very well it was the hour of the cabinet council, and they waited patiently and steadfastly, but as their watches revealed the fact that three hours had passed, and every noise was hushed, they concluded they were forgotten, and resolved to remind the lackey of their presence.

"Indeed, this standing is quite insupportable," whispered Woellner.

They both slipped to the entrance and tried the bronze knob, but although it turned, the door opened not, and was evidently fastened upon the outside. They looked alarmed at each other, asking what it could mean. "Can it be intentional? Are we imprisoned here? We must be resigned, although it is a severe experience." At last, patience exhausted, they resolved to bear it no longer, and tapped gently at the door of the king. The loud bark of a dog was their only response, and again all was still.

"Evidently there is no one there," sighed Bischofswerder. "It is the hour of dining of the king."

"I wish it were ours also," whined Woellner. "I confess I yearn for bodily nourishment, and my legs sink under me."

"I am fearfully hungry," groaned Bischofswerder; "besides, the air is suffocating. I am resolved to go to extremes, and make a noise."

He rushed like a caged boar from one door to the other, shrieking for the lackey to open the door; but as before, a loud bark was the only response.

"The Lord has forsaken us," whimpered Woellner. "The sublime Fathers have turned their faces away from us. We will pray for mercy and beg for a release!" and he sank upon his knees.

"What will that avail us here, where neither prayers nor devotion are heeded? Only energy and determination will aid us at Sans-Souci. Come, let us thump and bang until they set us free!" cried Bischofswerder, peevishly.

Their hands were lame, and their voices hoarse with their exertions; and no longer able to stand, they sank down upon the floor hungry and exhausted, almost weeping with rage and despair.

At last, after long hours of misery, they heard a noise in the adjoining room. The king had again entered his cabinet. The door opened, and the lackey motioned to the two gentlemen to enter. They rose with difficulty and staggered into the room, the door being closed behind them.

His majesty was seated in his arm-chair, with his three-cornered hat on, leaning his chin upon his hands, crossed upon his staff. He fixed his great blue eyes, with a searching glance, upon the two Rosicrucians; then turned to his minister, Herzberg, who was seated at the table covered with documents.

"These are, then, the two great props of the Rosicrucians?" asked Frederick-"the two charlatans whom they have told me make hell hot for the crown prince, continually lighting it up with their prayers and litanies."

"Your majesty," answered Herzberg, smiling, "these gentlemen are Colonel Bischofswerder and the councillor of the exchequer, Woellner, whom your majesty has commanded to appear before you."

"You are the two gentlemen who work miracles, and have the effrontery to summon the spirit of our ancestor, the great elector, and the Emperor Mar

cus Aurelius?"

"Sire," stammered Bischofswerder, "we have tried to summon spirits."

"And I too," cried the king, "only they will not come; therefore I wished to see the enchanters, and would like to purchase the secret."

"Pardon me, most gracious sire," said Woellner, humbly, "you must first be received in the holy order of the Rosicrucians."

"Thanks," cried the king, "I am not ready for the like follies, and whilst I live the Invisibles must take heed not to become too visible, or they will be taken care of. I will not permit Prussia to retrograde. It has cost too much trouble to enlighten the people, bring them to reason, and banish hypocrisy. Say to the Rosicrucians that they shall leave the crown prince in peace, or I will chase them to the devil, who will receive them with open arms! It could do no harm to appeal to the prince's conscience to lead an honorable life, and direct his thoughts more to study than to love, but you shall not make a hypocrite of him and misuse his natural good-nature. If the Rosicrucians try to force the prince and rule him, I will show them that I am master, and will no longer suffer their absurdities, but will break up the whole nest of them! I have been much, annoyed at the deep despondency of the crown prince. You shall not represent to him that baseness and virtue are the same, and that he is the latter when he betrays those to whom he has sworn fidelity and affection. An honorable man must, above all, he cognizant of benefits, and not forsake those who have sacrificed their honor and love to him, and have proved their fidelity. Have you understood me, gentlemen?"

"It will be my holy duty to follow strictly your majesty's commands," said Bischofswerder.

"And I also will strive to promote the will of my king," asserted Woellner.

"It will be necessary to do so, or you two gentlemen may find yourselves at Spandau. I would say to you once for all, I will not suffer any sects; every one can worship God in his own way. No one shall have the arrogant presumption to declare himself one of the elect. We are all sinners. The Rosicrucians are not better than the Illuminati or Freemasons, and none are more worthy than the tailor and cobbler who does his duty. Adieu!"

The king nodded quickly and pointed to the door out of which the two brothers were about to disappear, when he called them back.

"If the prince is not at the palace on your return, I advise you not to pursue him, but reflect that the Invisibles may have summoned him to a communion of spirits; I believe, too, that I kept you waiting; but without doubt you were comforted by the Fathers, who bore you away upon their wings, and gave you food and drink! Those who are protected by the spirits, and can summon them at pleasure, can never want. If you are hungry, call up the departed Lucullus, that he may provide for you to eat; and if you have no earthly seat, summon Semiramis that she may send you her hanging gardens for the quiet repose of the elect! I am rejoiced that you have enjoyed such celestial refreshments in the corridor. Adieu!"

The king gazed sadly after them. Approaching Herzberg, he said: "I felt, as I looked at the two rogues, that it was a pity to grow old. Did you think that I would let them off so easily?"

"Sire, I really do not understand you," replied Herzberg, shrugging his shoulders. "I know not, in your most active youthful days, how you could have done otherwise."

"I will tell you that, if I were not an old man, void of decision and energy, I would have had these fellows taken to Spandau for life!" said the king, striking the table with his staff.

"Your majesty does yourself injustice," said Herzberg, smiling. "You were ever a just monarch in your most ardent youth, and never set aside the law. These men were not guilty of any positive crime."

"They are daily and hourly guilty of enticing away from me the crown prince, and making the future ruler of my country an obscurer, a necromancer, and at the same time a libertine! I was obliged to overlook his youthful preference for Wilhelmine Enke, and wink at this amour, for I know that crown prince is human, and his affections are to be consulted. If he cannot love the wife which diplomacy chooses for him, then he must be permitted the chosen one of his heart to console him for the forced marriage. At the same time this person was passable, and without the usual fault of such creatures, a desire to rule and mingle in politics. She seems to be unambitious and unpretentious. These Rosicrucians would banish her by increasing the number of favorites, that they may rule him, and make the future King of Prussia a complete tool in their hands. They excite his mind, which is not too well balanced, and rob him by their witchcraft of the intellect that he has. They promise him to find the philosopher's stone, and make a fool of him. Am I not right?"

"I must acknowledge that you are," sighed Herzberg.

"And admit also that it would be just to send these in, famous fellows as criminals to Spandau."

"Sire, unfortunately, there are crimes and offences which the law does not reach, and which cannot be judged."

"When I was young," said the king, "I tore up and stamped upon every weed that I found in my garden. Shall I now let these two grow and infect the air, because the law gives me no right to crush them? Formerly I would have torn them leaf from leaf, but now I am old and useless, my hand is weak, and lacks the strength to uproot them, therefore I suffer them to stand, and all the other abominable things which these rogues bring to pass. A cloud is rising, from which a storm will one day burst over Prussia; but I cannot dissipate it, for the little strength and breath that remains I have need of for the government; and, moreover, I have no superfluous time for the future, but must live and work only for the present."

"But the blessing of your exertions will be felt in the future. The deeds of a great man are not extinguished with his death, but shine like a star, disseminating light beyond his grave!"

"This light is just what the Rosicrucians will take care to extinguish like a tallow candle with too long a wick, and it is good fortune that the astronomers have awarded me a little glorification in the heavens, and accorded me a star, for the Rosicrucians would not let it shine here below. I must console myself with this, and recall that when it is dark and lowering here, I have a star above in the sky!"

"This star is Frederick's honor," cried Herzberg. "It will beam upon future generations, and become the guiding light of the sons and nephews of your house, and they will learn to be as sagacious and wise as the Great Frederick."

"There you have made a great error, Herzberg," replied the king, quickly. "Future generations are newer taught by the past-grandchildren think themselves wiser than their grandparents. The greatest of heroes is forgotten, and his deeds buried in the dust of ages. You have given me a glorious title of honor, and I know how little I deserve it."

"A title which will be confirmed in centuries to come, for every history will speak of Frederick the Second as Frederick Great."

"In history it may be, but the people will speak of me as 'Old Fritz'-that will be on the lips of those who love me, and expression of endearment; on the lips of those who hate me, one of disaffection. I am, indeed, 'Old Fritz,' which the Bischofswerders and Woellners also call me, and try to make the crown prince believe that I have outlived my period, and do not understand or esteem the modern time. In their eyes I am a dismantled ship of state, which the storms of life have rendered unseaworthy. They would refit the vessel, and give it a new flag, sending Old Fritz, the helmsman, to the devil! The day of my death they will hoist this flag, with 'Modern Time' inscribed upon it in large letters. I shall then be united in Elysium with Voltaire, Jordan, Suhm, and all my other friends, as we were wont to be at Sans-Souci, and look down with a pitying smile upon the Modern Time and Old Folly!-Vale!"

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