The Youth of the Great Elector
by L. Muhlbach
1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11     Next Part
Home - Random Browse


An Historical Romance
















Portrait of George William, Elector of Brandenburg

The Jewess in her Bridal Dress

Robbery of Peasants

Portrait of Wladislaus IV, King of Poland





With hasty strides George William, the Elector, paced to and fro the length of his cabinet. His features wore a dark, agitated expression, his blue eyes flashed with indignation and wrath; his hands were folded behind his back, as if he would shut out from sight the paper they held with so firm a grasp, and which he had crumpled within his fist, until it bore greater resemblance to a ball than a letter. Yet he must look at it once more—that unfortunate epistle, which had stirred within him such a tempest of fury; he must withdraw his hands from his back, and again unfold the paper, for nothing else would satisfy his rage.

"Would that I could thus crush between my hands the insolent, seditious authors of this letter!" he murmured, as with a sigh he smoothed the paper and read it over. "I see it plainly," he said then to himself; "with right unworthy motive, these lords of the duchy of Cleves intend to vex and mortify me. To ask me to give them the Electoral Prince for their stadtholder, to fix his residence among them! That were a fine story forsooth, to send our son away, that he, too, may perchance rebel against us. It is an abominable thing, which I shall never suffer, and I shall forwith give them my mind on the subject."

He stepped up to the great table of carved oak-wood, took from it a silver whistle, and gave a loud shrill call.

"Are the deputies from the duchy of Cleves already in the antechamber?" he asked of the servant who appeared.

"Yes, your Electoral Highness, they are there."

"Let them come in! Be quick!"

The lackey stepped back, threw open the folding doors, beckoned into the entrance hall, and with loud voice announced: "The lords of the duchy of Cleves to wait upon his Electoral Highness."

Four gentlemen entered, attired in gorgeous, richly embroidered uniforms. They bowed low and most respectfully before the Elector.

George William did not acknowledge this reverential greeting by the slightest inclination of his head, but looked with contracted brow and threatening eyes at the envoys, who had now again lifted up their heads, and met with tranquillity and composure the wrathful glances of the lord of the land, while they seemed to await his permission to penetrate farther into the apartment, and to approach him.

But this permission the Elector did not accord them. He left them standing like humble dependents near the door, and went toward them with long, menacing strides.

"You are the lords from Cleves, who have come to present me this memorial in behalf of the estates?" asked George William in a harsh voice.

"Gracious Elector," answered one of the gentlemen, "we were sent hither, in the name of the states of the duchy of Cleves, to present to you in person their wishes and requests. But since your Electoral Highness would not have the kindness to grant us an audience, but referred us to your minister, his excellency Count Schwarzenberg, we have preferred to intrude upon your Electoral Highness with a written document, in order that your highness might be made acquainted with the desires and petitions of the duchy of Cleves by means of our own writing, rather than by the mouth of his excellency your minister."

"It pleases you, gentlemen, to impugn the character of my minister, Count Schwarzenberg?" asked the Elector. "You would insinuate that he might represent things differently from what they actually are? I give you to know, though, that Schwarzenberg is a servant singularly true and devoted to his Elector, and that I have much more reason to trust him than the estates of the duchy of Cleves, who have dared to make known to me through you their strange requests. I have had you summoned now in order to have confirmed by you orally what is stated in this paper, for it seems to me nothing less than sheer impossibility that the estates should venture to propose to their liege lord what you have proposed. Repeat to me, therefore, by word of mouth the demands of the states of Cleves, then I will return you my answer. Which of you is spokesman?"

"I, Baron van Velsen, your Electoral Highness."

"A Dutch name, as it seems to me."

"My family came originally from Holland, but settled in the duchy of Cleves fifty years ago."

"Speak then, Baron van Velsen. I am ready to hear you."

"Your Electoral Highness, the states of the duchy of Cleves send us to seek succor from you their liege lord in this time of their necessity and distress. On all sides we are oppressed by soldiers, and perpetually in danger of being seized and consumed by one or other of the contending potentates, princes, and lords. In the Netherlands the contest is still going on between the States and the Spaniards, and daily threatens to involve us in the calamities and perils of war, and equally alarming to us is the neighborhood of the Imperial and Swedish troops. Oppressed by all, downtrodden by all, there is only one assured means of deliverance. It is this, that your highness nominate the Electoral Prince stadtholder of the duchy of Cleves, and permit him to take up his residence among the trusty people of Cleves."

"Just tell me, you wise and prudent deputies from Cleves, what advantage can accrue to you from the stadtholdership of the Electoral Prince?" asked the Elector hastily. "And how far would that go in furnishing redress for your difficulties?"

"So far as this, your highness, that our stadtholder would shield and protect us against the encroachments of inimical powers, and by his openly expressed neutrality secure us against the claims of all parties. The salvation of the duchy depends wholly and solely upon our having a neutral chief resident among us, and we beseech and implore your Electoral Highness to grant us such an one in the Electoral Prince, and to send his lordship your son to the duchy armed with plenipotentiary powers.[1] It is for the second time that the states of Cleves appeal with this earnest, humble entreaty to the heart of their liege lord, and most urgently we beg that this time we may have a hearing."

"Are you done, or have you anything further to say?" asked the Elector impatiently.

"Your highness, only this have we to say besides, that the Prince of Orange has promised to support our petition to your Electoral Highness, and that he also is of opinion that the welfare of Cleves depends upon her possessing a ruler, resident in the land and neutral."

"The Prince of Orange has only written to me that the states of Cleves were of this mind, and had besought him to introduce it to my favorable notice," exclaimed the Elector warmly. "Since you are now through with your repeated suit, and have nothing more to say, I will give you my answer without delay. But you might have known beforehand—you might have been sure that if a sovereign has once made his subjects acquainted with his wishes and opinions, he can not be influenced and made to swerve in purpose by renewed application, but that he holds to what he has once determined upon. And so I tell you now for the second time, that I can not grant their petition to the states of Cleves. In the first place, because I will not have the Electoral Prince longer separated from me, since he has already been absent from here three years, and in these troublous times we wish to have our son near us. In the second place, the presence of the Electoral Prince in Cleves might not have the wished-for result. It is rather to be feared that those in opposition to the Emperor's majesty and the empire will not accommodate themselves to the strict treaty of peace, nor forbear making aggression upon the Electoral Prince's lands, and pay so little regard to the person and presence of the Prince that his safety perhaps might be imperiled. But, in the third place," continued the Elector with raised voice—"but, in the third place, I can not grant your request because such repeated demands almost force us to the conclusion that you are weary and disgusted with our rule, and therefore would seek to make of our son a sovereign lord, thus inciting the son to offer opposition to his own father."[2]

"Your Electoral Highness," cried the Lord van Velsen, "I swear that it never crossed our minds, we—"

"Silence! I gave you no leave to speak!" thundered the Elector. "This is now our final decision. We have taken it in ill part that you have reiterated your request, and have even approached the Electoral Prince himself on the subject, as if the son durst decide anything or act, without reference to his father and lord, since he is bound to be an obedient subject, as all the rest of you. Communicate this to the states of the duchy of Cleves, and herewith you are dismissed."

And, without one gracious salutation or further token of dismissal, the Elector turned on his heel, and slowly traversed the spacious apartment, leaning upon his staff. The lords looked after him with dark, resentful glances; then, seeing that he had indeed spoken his last word, they slunk away softly, but with bitter hatred in their hearts.

The Elector heard the door close behind them, and again turned round.

"I have paid them off," he said, drawing a deep breath, "I have told them what I agreed with Schwarzenberg to say. I hope, too, that his Imperial Majesty will hear of this, and recognize in it my purpose to adhere firmly to the terms of the treaty of peace concluded at Prague and to his Imperial Majesty. The Swedes and the Protestant party once renounced, I am the Emperor's friend, and so will abide. Amen!"

Again the door opened, and the old lackey announced: "The deputation from the townsmen of the cities of Berlin and Cologne request an audience with your Electoral Grace."

The Elector gave the order for them to enter, while he let himself sink into a high-backed, leather-covered armchair, for his gouty foot pained him.

The deputation of citizens had meanwhile entered, and lightly, on tiptoe, these men, with pale faces and sad countenances, passed through the apartment toward the armchair of the Elector, who sat with his back to them. Quite a strange, dismal appearance they presented, in their long black gowns and broad white collars plaited around the neck. They would have been taken, not for burgers of the two first cities of the land, but for gravediggers and undertakers, who had come here in the discharge of their melancholy offices.

When George William heard the approaching steps of the burgers, he gave his chair a sudden push, so that it turned upon its strong rollers, and thus gave to the men the benefit of his Electorial countenance.

Forthwith the burgers sank upon their knees, and imploringly stretched out their hands toward the Prince.

"Wherefore have you come and what will you have of me?" inquired the Elector in a severe voice.

"Your Electoral Highness, we have been informed by the magistrate that your grace was angry with the corporations of Berlin and Cologne because we ventured, in our anxiety and distress, to have recourse to our own liege lord, and to implore in a petition his support and protection."

"How could you dare to do such a thing? Did you not know that the Count von Schwarzenberg had been appointed by me stadtholder within the Mark, and that to him alone you should have gone with your complaints and grievances?"

"But we knew, besides, that our despair had reached its height, and that we longed for the protection and presence of our own Sovereign, as weak, delicate children long for the sight of a strong, tender parent. Therefore have the united corporations of the cities of Berlin and Cologne determined to send a memorial in writing to your Electoral Highness, to conjure our liege lord not to deal with us as step-children, since we are children of one and the same father, and inferior to the Prussians neither in love nor obedience, but only more visited by misfortune and the calamities of war. But on this account we implored our hereditary Sovereign most graciously to turn his eye upon us, and to come to our aid, since we stood in such great need of his help and his protecting arm. This, Electoral Highness and most gracious lord, this is our sole crime. We longed after the presence of our Sovereign, in his own most sacred person, and told him so."

"But in what way have you presumed to speak?" cried the Elector with vehemence. "Not as in reverence and duty bound, but as if you would reproach us! What a rude expression is this when you say, in your petition, that you hope we shall no longer leave the Markgraviates as sheep without shepherd, just as if we would hand you over without protection to the free will and power of the enemy? Most probably those honorable citizens, the tailors and shoemakers, drew up this famous writing, but they would have done better to take into their counsel their priest, or at least a schoolmaster, because he could have enlightened them as to the proper style of address for obedient, submissive citizens to assume in writing to their Sovereign. I have always been an indulgent ruler, who continually cared for your best interests. If matters do not go so well with you, it is your own fault, because you would never carry out my intentions, which I made you acquainted with and urged upon you long years ago. For have we not perpetually, ever since God exalted us to the Electoral dignity and invested us with the reins of government, caused to be represented to you and to all the states in the land how highly necessary it was to establish another form of government? Who has it been but yourselves who hindered, obstructed, and opposed it? Now, however, when things go not so smoothly, you lament over it, and demand from me assistance, when in former times your pride always consisted in being wholly independent of us, through your free-city constitutions! Now, then, see what is the result, when a city will be wholly independent of its liege lord and persists in its obstinacy."

"Your Electoral Highness, it has never entered the minds of our citizens to oppose themselves obstinately to the most gracious of sovereigns," protested the spokesman of the burger deputation, "On the contrary, we have always been found ready to obey the behests of your Electoral grace."

"That is not true! That is a lie!" cried the Elector vehemently. "Often have you declined to obey my commands in small as well as great things. I remember yet very well how, when three years ago I came in the summertime from Prussia to Berlin, I was perfectly shocked at the filth and stench in the streets of Cologne and Berlin, where before every house, besides pigstyes, there were heaped high piles of trash and manure. But when I ordered the high council of both cities to have the streets cleansed, they had the hardihood to answer me thus: 'The citizens have no time now to clean the streets, since they are busy with agricultural work.'[3] And quite recently, when I merely applied to these two capitals for their yearly quota of fifteen thousand dollars, in order to increase my bodyguard from three hundred to six hundred men during these perilous times of warfare, did you not refuse to grant this subsidy to your rightful lord?"

"Your Electoral Highness, that was the result of the extremest affliction and necessity, because we were really in no condition to pay the money. For whence shall we procure it if poverty, want, and affliction are the only things that yet belong to us? Just on that very account, to bring this matter to the hearing of your Electoral Highness, have we been deputed as delegates by the corporations of Berlin and Cologne to wait upon your Electoral Grace, that we might represent our distresses to our Sovereign, and entreat him to forgive us if we are forced to decline contributions of money, for we are unable to raise them. Since this fierce, horrible war has raged in Germany between the Imperialists and Swedes, between the Catholics and Protestants, the cities of Berlin and Cologne have suffered pitiably, and have been levied upon and plundered, sometimes by the Swedes and sometimes by the Imperialists. Before the peace of Prague the Imperialists visited us quite often with cruel robberies and levies, but since the peace of Prague,[4] it has been yet worse, and what we have suffered and endured these past two years is enough to melt a stone, how much more the heart of a pitiful Sovereign. Last year first came the Swedish colonel Haderslof into our town, and levied upon us for sixteen thousand dollars; and hardly had he left when Field-Marshal Wrangel came and demanded twenty thousand dollars besides. Since, however, we were not in a position to pay that sum, he contented himself with a thousand dollars in money, but we had to furnish him in addition with fifteen thousand yards of cloth, three thousand pairs of socks, and as many pairs of shoes, and besides that he had all the cattle driven out of the city. And yet again, a few weeks ago came the Swedish colonel Haderslof, and demanded of us a contribution of eleven thousand dollars. It was impossible, however. We could pay no more, since we had no more gold, and were obliged to receive it almost as a favor that he promised in the compact to accept silver in payment in lieu of gold, and to estimate a half ounce of gilded silver at twelve groschen and a half ounce of white silver at nine groschen. We could do nothing but submit, and each householder and citizen bore all the silverware he possessed to the guildhall, where the Swede had ordered the contributions to be collected. And now, most gracious lord and Elector, now that we are poor and wretched, comes the stadtholder in the Mark, the Lord Count von Schwarzenberg, and requires of the cities of Berlin and Cologne the payment of their annual tax for purposes of defense."

"And you are bound by duty and obligation so to do," exclaimed the Elector quickly. "On the committee day of the year 1626 it was decided that the city of Berlin should annually pay a stipend for defense of eight thousand five hundred dollars, that therewith might be maintained her garrison and the fortress of Berlin. Therefore you are bound and under obligation to pay this assessment at present, for it strikes me forcibly that you were never in greater need of a garrison than just now."

"But may it please your Electoral Highness, our garrison is of no manner of use to us. It is much too inconsiderable to afford protection against the enemy, and is rather hurtful, insomuch as the soldiers readily fall into quarrels and brawls with our enemies, in which, however, they always come off losers, only embittering still more the hatred of our foes. Therefore, when we have anticipated the approach of the enemy, we have always besieged the commandant of our garrison with entreaties and representations, until he has consented, in order to save us from increased misfortunes, to retire with his garrison from the city, and to march out to Spandow or Brandenburg until the enemy again had taken their departure.[5] Your Electoral Grace sees therefore that the garrison is of no use at all to us, and yet we must pay a tax for defense."

"Yes, must and shall pay it, for your case is not so bad as you would have us believe. Meantime you have refused to defray the expenses of enlarging my bodyguard; report has reached Koenigsberg of the proceedings at Berlin and Cologne, and truly wonderful and horrible tidings have been imparted to me by my chancellor, Pruckmann. I know all. I am acquainted with all your doings and actions, and I must say that my heart, yearning as it does over my subjects, has been grieved to learn the abominable godlessness and wickedness of the citizens of my towns of Berlin and Cologne. It is true that you have had to suffer many of the trials and calamities incident to war, but not in the least have you been improved by them or led to repentance. In spite of the necessities of war, you have not forsaken your pride and haughtiness; the women dress themselves extravagantly, and it is really abominable, shameful, and disgusting to behold them in the new French attire, which they call 'la Fontange,' and which leaves the person uncovered almost as far as the waist. They bedizen themselves with finery and flaunt through the streets in velvets and satins. And the men encourage them in it, join in their amusements, and waste their lives in banquetings and feastings. Such disgraceful lives as men must have passed in Sodom and Gomorrah! And although you know the enemy may come again at any moment and levy their contributions upon you, yet you take it not in the least to heart, but continue to lead a merry, luxurious life, have balls and drinking bouts, spend a wild, heathenish life in eating, drinking, gambling, and other wantonness, deck yourselves out like peacocks, and those who have the least, and carry all their possessions upon their bodies, act worst of all."

"It is desperation, your Electoral Highness, which makes the people of Berlin so mad and wild. Well they know that they can call nothing their own. Why should they save when the Swede comes to-day or to-morrow, and takes from them their last possession? Therefore they prefer to squander upon themselves in desperate merriment, rather than economize and go along sorrowfully, to find that they have only saved for the enemy, who laughs at their misery."

"Now, if you take it so, you might give to me also what I desire and demand, and I would have the citizens of Berlin and Cologne to know through you that I am not minded to abate in the least my requisitions for the payment of the expenses of my bodyguard, and the tax for the maintenance of my Electoral court. You must and shall pay, and in any case it must be preferable, to your desperation, to give your last thing to your Elector and Sovereign, rather than have it stolen and extorted from you by the Swedes. So, there you have my decision, and be off with it and convey it to the citizens of Berlin and Cologne. Attempt not to say anything more now, for I will hear nothing more. You are dismissed, go then!"

"Your Electoral Highness," the spokesman ventured to begin, "I—"

But the Elector would not allow him to proceed. He took up his silver whistle, and with its shrill call overpowered the sound of the burger's words. The door of the outer chamber opened immediately, and the lackey appeared upon the threshold; on the outside, beside the door, were to be seen two of the Electoral lifeguardsmen, standing with shouldered weapons.

"The burger deputation is dismissed," cried the Elector shortly. "Have the doors opened, and let them go out."

The delegates from the oppressed cities ventured not to make opposition; sighing and with heads bowed low they strode through the room. Arrived at the door, they turned once more and bowed deeply before his Electoral Grace. But George William saw it not, for with an adroit jerk he had again turned his armchair toward his writing table. Meanwhile, although he affected to read the document which he took from the table, his attention was in fact wholly concentrated upon the departing burgers. He listened with a satisfied air as they slowly moved away, and, when the door of the antechamber closed behind them, with a deep-drawn breath deposited the document upon the table.

"They will pay, I am certain they will pay," he said, a triumphant expression flitting across his troubled, peevish countenance. "I have properly frightened them and put them in wholesome dread, so that they will not dare to oppose us longer. Yes, they will pay and thus extricate us from the dilemma in which we find ourselves at present. Ah! what a hard, fearful thing is life, and how little does it fulfill the hopes with which I looked forward to it in the years of my youth! My blessed father was such a fortunate ruler! With him everything was successful. He lived in peace and concord with Emperor and empire, was beloved by his people, and had great prospects for the future, being heir to precious possessions. And when I thus beheld him in the glory and fullness of his power, I thought to myself that it was a glorious destiny to be an Elector, and that a clear sky always shone above the head of a Prince. Yet all at once clouds chased across and darkened this sky, for in Bohemia was kindled the war which soon split Germany into two hostile parties. My blessed father took sides with his brother-in-law, the new King of Bohemia. But then came the battle of the White Mountain, which cost my poor uncle, the King of Bohemia, Frederick of the Palatinate, his land and crown, and drove him forth into misfortune and misery. And the triumphant Emperor threatened all who should succor the conquered sovereign with proscription and the ban of the empire, and whoever should rescue him must cry pater peccavi, and penitentially confess to the Emperor and empire. My blessed father did so, but henceforth he might no longer sit upon the throne, which could only remain his through the condescension of the Emperor. He preferred to live independently in solitude and retirement, devoting himself to the meditations and practices of the reformed doctrines, whose confession he adopted, together with his whole family. So he resigned the government, and gave it to me. Alas! it was a sad heritage, and little enough had I to rule, for misfortune, war, and the Emperor ruled me and my land, so that I soon had my fill of it, and—"

"May we come in?" asked a pleasant voice behind the Elector, interrupting him in his melancholy reminiscences.

"Yes, Lady Electress," he replied, painfully rising from his armchair—"yes, come in and be heartily welcome to your spouse."


The Electress Charlotte Elizabeth closed the little side door which led from her private apartments, and with a friendly nod of the head and tender glances approached her husband, who advanced slowly to meet her.

"Elizabeth," he said, thoughtfully shaking his head, "I see from your countenance that you have something special to say to me. Your brown eyes shine to-day unusually bright and clear, and on your lips rests a happy, tender smile, such as, alas! I no longer observe often in my wife."

"Gladly would I have smiled and looked cheerful, George, but have lacked the opportunity. You know well that we have seldom seen a blue sky above us; it has been always over-cast by gloomy clouds. But I beg of you, my lord and husband, to resume your seat, for I see, alas! that your foot is paining you sadly. The fatigues of travel have injured it, and it would indeed be wise if you would at last determine to resort to active remedies, and to that end allow a couple of the learned Frankfort doctors to be sent for."

With an expression almost of alarm the Elector looked upon his wife, who had seated herself on a stool beside him, and soothingly and tenderly laid her hand upon his cheek.

"You have something on your mind, Elizabeth, something surely," he said, "and it is nothing which can give me pleasure, else you would not use so much circumlocution; but speak it out frankly."

"How?" asked the Electress, "must I have some special object in view, when I smile upon you, and fondle you a little? Know you not that my soul is full of tenderness toward you, and that my heart is ever speaking to you, even when the lips utter not aloud what the heart is whispering within?"

"Elizabeth!" cried the Elector, "now I know it; you have received tidings from our son, and vexatious tidings! Yes, yes, that is it! I know those tender looks and beaming eyes; it is not my wife that I recognize in them: it is the mother of our Electoral Prince, Frederick William."

"Ah! what an acute observer you are, George, and how well you understand how to read my countenance! Well, now, you shall have it in all candor. I have news from our dear Electoral Prince."

"He notifies us, I trust, that he has followed our instructions strictly and to the letter, and is now on his way home?" asked the Elector, gazing upon his wife with anxious, inquiring glances.

But Elizabeth avoided his look.

"What!" cried George William angrily, "you do not answer me! You can not, therefore, respond to my questions with a joyful Yes! Can it be possible, then, that the Electoral Prince has disregarded my commands, that—"

"Do not allow yourself to be so excited, George," interrupted the Electress. "First hear his motives and excuses before you grow angry with our son."

"From all those motives and excuses I shall only gather that he will not come," cried the Elector.

"Say rather that he can not come," returned Elizabeth, while she gently forced back her husband, who in his excitement and impatience had made an effort to rise. "Yes, I have letters from The Hague, my dear husband, letters from both our uncle, the Prince of Orange, and my mother, and I dare affirm that these letters have given me heartfelt joy, inasmuch as my uncle the Stadtholder, as well as my mother, write of our dear son that he is an accomplished Prince, in whom one may reasonably rejoice, and whom we may be proud to call our son. You know, George, that during these three years of his sojourn in Holland, we have ever had good and complimentary accounts of him. His tutor, von Kalkhun, has often reported to us with what diligence our son applied himself to his studies at Leyden, and that he had become quite a learned Prince, in whom even the professors themselves took peculiar delight. Then when he had finished his course of studies at Leyden and went to Arnheim, where he met with the Princes William of Orange and Maurice of Nassau, they could not sufficiently laud the handsome appearance, lofty spirit, and noble heart of our young Electoral Prince."

"Truly," muttered the Elector, "one could infer from your discourse that you are the mother of this highly praised lad. It is an old experience that mothers always find something remarkable in their sons, and if they were to be believed, then would the son of every mother be no ordinary specimen of mankind, but a phoenix among all other men."

"But, my well-beloved Elector, I have nevertheless told nothing but the truth. Our son has been very successful in his studies these last three years in Holland, and has become a very learned and accomplished young man, who is well skilled in Latin and Greek, besides speaking German, French, and Italian in a masterly way. But most especially has he cultivated himself in a knowledge of the science of war, and the Princes of Orange and Nassau certify that he will assuredly become hereafter a great general and warrior, so learnedly and wisely does he even now discourse upon the subject."

"Why do you say all this, Elizabeth?" asked the Elector. "Why do you praise our son, but that you are conscious that he is deserving of censure, and has sinned grievously against us in not having so hastened his return home as to be here now instead of his letters? But that he has already set out on the journey home I can not for a moment doubt, and bitterly should he experience my fatherly wrath if it were not so. Just tell me in short, concise words, when does my son, the Electoral Prince, come?"

"My dear lord and husband," said the Electress with reluctance and visible embarrassment, "would it not be best for you to speak on this subject with the chamberlain, Balthazar von Schlieben—"

"What!" cried the Elector, springing from his seat—"what! Is Schlieben here again—Schlieben, whom we sent to The Hague in order that he might conduct our son hither? He has come back without the Electoral Prince?"

"Yes, my husband, he has come back," replied the Electress, winding her arms tenderly around her husband's neck. "I entreat you most earnestly not to be angry before you have heard the reasons why the Electoral Prince does not come. I entreat you to admit Balthazar von Schlieben, and have an account rendered to you by him."

"Yes!" exclaimed the Elector, vehemently—"yes, I will see him. He shall render me an account. Where is he? They must send for him directly; he must be summoned to me immediately!"

"It is not necessary, George; he stands without there in the little passage leading to my apartments. I shall cause him to enter immediately. You must promise me first, though, my beloved husband, that you will listen to him without reproaches and anger, and that you will say nothing in his presence against the only son given us by Heaven."

"I shall make no promises that I can not keep," cried the Elector warmly. "I will speak with Schlieben. He must come in. Ho! Chamberlain Balthazar von Schlieben, come in, I charge you to come in."

The little arras door opened and disclosed to view a slender, tall young man, in gold-laced blue uniform, with red facings.

"At the command of your Electoral Grace," he said, making a reverential obeisance.

"Come hither, Schlieben," cried George William, "close up to me, that I may see if you are actually he who dares to return here without the one after whom I sent him. So! Look me straight in the face, and tell me why I sent you to Holland three months ago, and what was your errand there?"

"Your Electoral Highness, I was sent by your grace to Holland, in order that I might conduct hither his Highness the Electoral Prince."

"Well, then, where is the Electoral Prince?"

"Your Electoral Highness, he is at present still at The Hague, and most urgently and most submissively he beseeches your Electoral Highness through me that he may be permitted to remain there at least for the winter."

"He is yet at The Hague!" cried the Elector. "He ventures thus to brave me—to oppose himself to my strict injunctions? Or have you not handed him my letter, Schlieben? Or have you not repeated to him all that I said and urged you by word of mouth to convey to him? Did you not inform him that I ordered him, under penalty of my princely and fatherly displeasure, to set out and journey hither in the speediest manner possible?"

"Your Electoral Highness, I carried out exactly every command given me by your highness, and the Electoral Prince surely would not have delayed an instant gratifying the demands of his revered father, if many concurring circumstances had not made it impossible for him. The Electoral Prince has himself more narrowly pointed out and explained these in this letter, which he has charged me to deliver to your highness."

And with a deep inclination the chamberlain extended a large sealed packet to his Sovereign.

George William took it with angry impatience, and so curious was he to read the contents of the packet that he hastily tore off the cover, the sooner to arrive at its purport. A closely written sheet of fine paper was within the cover, and the Elector unfolded it with eager hands. But after looking at this a long while, he shook his head passionately, and the flush of anger on his countenance grew yet darker.

"What sort of new-fashioned, disrespectful handwriting is this?" growled George William. "This is not at all as if it had been written by a prince's son, but by a scholar who had carefully sought to crowd as many lines as possible into one page in order to save paper. A prince should never renounce or be unmindful of his own dignity. But it is unbecoming, indeed, and unworthy of a prince to write such a fine hand, as if he were a scholar or a writing master. I can not read these small intricate characters. Read the letter to me, Electress, in short, share it with me from the first."

The Electress took the sheet held out to her, and read it over with hurried glances. "The Electoral Prince uses the most humble, submissive words," she said, finally. "It is just the letter of an obedient and respectful son, who is all anxiety to obey the commands of his father, and who is deeply grieved that he must nevertheless go contrary to them."

"Must?" cried George William. "Be pleased to tell me why he must."

"Only hear, my lord and husband, what the Prince writes about it," said the Electress, and with loud voice she read:

"'There are various circumstances which compel me to prolong my stay in this country. In the first place, Admiral Tromp is here, and he is very useful in aiding me to arrive at a more perfect knowledge of nautical affairs, as, also, the condescension and kindness of my uncle, the Prince of Orange, that great general, affords me a glorious opportunity of perfecting myself in the science of war. And I think that, the more I learn and study here, the more capable will I become of serving hereafter under your highness. But, apart from these things, it would be exceedingly difficult at this season of the year and under the present conditions, to make the long journey from The Hague to Prussia; most probably it would consume a half year, and the expenses would be enormous, while next summer I might easily accomplish the journey in two months. The voyage by sea would be next to impossible during this present winter on account of the violent storms, which might occasion tedious delays. Moreover, I dread the privateers of Dunkirk, against which the Dutch convoy could hardly protect me. But yet more formidable seems the journey by land in the existing state of the times. In Westphalia the Hessians and Swedes rove about, rendering the roads unsafe. Even should I take my way over the flats, along the strand, yet the Swedish and Hessian troops could easily catch up with me, and overpower the escort promised me for safe-conduct by the counts of East Friesland and Oldenburg and the Bishop of Bremen. Or should I bend my course through Upper Germany and Franconia, there, again, other hindrances present themselves, for throughout all these provinces reigns the greatest wretchedness—men even devouring one another for hunger. On that account my uncle, the Prince Stadtholder himself, has opposed my undertaking the journey, considering it too dangerous. A deputation from the duchy of Cleves has also come and begged me to postpone my departure, since they had petitioned your grace anew to leave me in the duchy of Cleves as their stadtholder. And if all this were not so, there is yet another reason which must prevent my departure from here. But this I dare not commit to writing, for a letter may be so easily lost, and to read such a thing would furnish our enemies an occasion of rejoicing and triumph. Therefore I have told all to young Balthazar von Schlieben, and he will in my name faithfully and most reverentially communicate to you, your Electoral Highness and my most gracious father, the true and principal cause which prevents my setting forth from Holland.'"

"Well, speak then!" cried the Elector impatiently. "Speak, Schlieben—what is it?"

"Will not my lord and husband first hear the Electoral Prince's letter to the end?" asked the Electress. "Here follow some cordial, affectionate words, and assurances of the most filial respect and most submissive love."

"Can I value them, yes, can I value any of them all?" answered George William passionately. "When we will prove nothing by deeds, then we make speeches, and when we are disobedient in act, then we asseverate with words of love and reverence. Speak, then, Balthazar von Schlieben, since you have been thus commissioned by the Electoral Prince. What is this most weighty of reasons which forbids the departure of the Electoral Prince from Holland?"

"Your Electoral Highness, it is debt, it is the total want of money."

The Elector started up as if an adder had stung him. "Debts!" he cried in thundering voice. "Want of money! Will this litany never, never cease? What a wild, extravagant life the Electoral Prince must lead to be for ever and ever wanting money, and no sooner are his debts paid than he contracts new ones!"

"Husband," said the Electress soothingly, "it does not reflect upon the life our son leads that he is out of money, but proves that he has not received a sufficiently ample allowance. Just reflect that three years ago, when he undertook this journey to Holland, you did not give him a red cent, and that I had to give him from my little savings three thousand dollars that he might be able to travel at all.[6] A considerable portion of this must have been expended during the tedious journey, with his retinue."

"If any one were to listen to you, Electress, he would really suppose that the Electoral Prince had lived upon those three thousand dollars lent him by you from that time up to the present. You forget, however, that, already in the year 1636, therefore the very next year after the Electoral Prince set out upon his journey, the states at the diet of Koenigsberg voted the large sum of seven thousand dollars to the Electoral Prince for the prosecution of his studies, over which they made a great outcry even then, since the owner of each rood of land must be taxed five groschen to pay for these acquirements, bringing down, no doubt, many a curse upon his Latin and Greek.[7] From these two sources alone, then, he has had ten thousand dollars to disburse in three years, which for so young a gentleman would surely seem sufficient. Besides, just half a year ago, on his repeated application to me for money, I sent him again one thousand dollars, insomuch as he felt himself compelled to purchase a stately equipage."

"That was the time, husband, when our son went from Leyden to Arnheim, to reside there for a long while. There, of course, he was obliged to have a small household about him, in order to maintain the dignity of his father and his house, for there, too, dwelt the Princes of Orange and Nassau, and our son, the Electoral Prince of Brandenburg, in order not to be surpassed by them, must, like them, hold his court."

"And unfortunately living is very expensive in Holland," remarked the Chamberlain von Schlieben. "Your Electoral Grace had sent one thousand dollars to the Electoral Prince for the purchase of an equipage, but this sum was by no means adequate. The coach alone cost seven hundred dollars."

"Seven hundred dollars!" cried the Elector, amazed. "How can one pay so much money for a mere wooden box?"

"If it please your highness, the coaches in Holland are not by any means wooden boxes, merely painted, varnished, and gilded a little within and without, having hard leather-covered seats. The Electoral Prince's coach is hung within and without in red velvet and satin, for this custom and usage require of a princely personage in Holland; besides, a set of four horses must be bought, and each of these cost one hundred and forty dollars. Your Electoral Highness sees clearly, therefore, that one thousand dollars could not suffice to cover the expense, for coach and horses alone cost more than that, and now must be added the liveries and harness, besides the wages of coachman, footmen, and lackeys."

"Yes, I see plainly that my dear son leads a stately, extravagant life," cried the Elector. "I see well that it is high time for him to come away from there, and learn that an Elector of Brandenburg must adapt himself to his means, and, instead of riding in a coach drawn by four horses, must drive in a miserable rattle-trap pulled by two paltry beasts. It is therefore full time that the Electoral Prince were withdrawn from the scenes of his pomp and pride, and were taught again to live simply and sparingly. He must and shall return home! Finally, I am sick and tired of this eternal negotiating, this writing to and fro, and it really is high time that this should have an end. For a year already I have been in treaty with the young gentleman concerning his return home, and last of all dispatched my chamberlain to enjoin it upon him as my most decided and express will that the Prince come home, and start forthwith. But he has an obstinate disposition, and sends the Chamberlain von Schlieben back, and tranquilly remain there, where he is so well pleased, living as he does in pomp and luxury, while I have hardly enough money to live along scantily and with the strictest economy."

"But only consider, my dear husband," said the Electress persuasively—"only consider that it is not from high-mindedness or disobedience that the Electoral Prince tarries in Holland. Indeed, he can not get away while he has no money, and on that very account most urgently appeals to the kindest of all fathers, through the Chamberlain von Schlieben, reverentially begging and beseeching him to extricate him from his difficulties by sending him money enough to pay his debts, and to enable him to travel as becomes his rank."

"Money, and always money!" cried the Elector, almost in a tone of despair. "O God! what a tormented, unhappy man I am! Every one has something to crave of me, and no one anything to give me! When I demand of the states, provinces, cities, citizens, and peasants funds to defray my expenses, then from all sides I hear: 'We have no money; we are so reduced that we can pay no taxes.' And still all these states, provinces, cities, citizens, and peasants demand of me money and support, succor and alms, although they know that I have nothing, for they give me nothing. Money! money! That word has been my tormentor and enemy ever since I began to rule; sleeping and waking that word has pursued me. From all officers, from all subalterns I have heard it, as often as they came near me, and now comes my dear son, too, afflicting and harassing his poor, unfortunate father with this dreaded word. But I shall not suffer him to employ this hated word in his own behalf and turn it against me for his own advantage. I shall not allow him to remain longer at The Hague under pretext that he lacks money to bring him home. He shall have money, yes, he shall have it. I shall see to procuring it. It must be done."

"My dear lord and husband," besought the Electress, "I entreat you not to be so much excited, for it might injure you."

"And I entreat you to leave me now, Lady Electress," said George William impatiently. "It is useless to exhort one to tranquillity and composure, who has so much reason to be roused and provoked. But this fine son of ours shall pay for the vexation and torture that he has prepared for me. He may reckon upon my setting it down to his account, and not allowing myself to be cheated by empty speeches and by fine actions in word alone. You are dismissed, Sir Chamberlain von Schlieben! Badly enough have you fulfilled my commission, and you may be sure that never again shall you be selected as our messenger and legate!"

"Permit me, my husband, to put in a good word for poor Schlieben!" cried the Electress. "He had no power to bring the Electoral Prince away by force, just as the Electoral Prince himself has no power to leave of his own free will. The whole difficulty consists in our son's having no money."

"Yes, and right welcome is it to him, this time," said the Elector with a bitter laugh. "As he has no money, he continually contracts more and more debts, thereby rendering the payment more difficult, and the longer the delay the longer can the Prince remain in Holland, leading a merry life there. But I shall make an end of it, an end! Schwarzenberg shall come, and he must and will procure me the means. Excuse me, Lady Electress, I have business—pressing business."

"I withdraw, my lord and husband," said Elizabeth, bowing ceremonially, and, turning to the Chamberlain von Schlieben, who was just sliding toward the door with pale, disturbed countenance, she continued: "Sir Chamberlain, follow me! You must tell me more about my dear Electoral Prince and all my dear relatives, whom you have seen and spoken with at The Hague."

The countenance of the chamberlain lighted up, and with a grateful glance he followed the Electress through the side door into her own apartments.

The Elector was alone. His head sank upon his breast, and he stood deeply absorbed in thought. But after a pause he slowly raised his head, and his sorrowful glance fell directly upon the portrait of his father, John Sigismund, whose sad, pale face was turned toward him, with its dark, melancholy eyes.

"Poor father!" murmured the Elector with a heavy sigh, "I understand quite well and easily conceive why you voluntarily laid down your power and retired from the government before death had sent his summons. An Elector of Brandenburg has by no means a comfortable, pleasant life of it; and a sorely oppressive inheritance have I received from you, so that I, too, might despair, and do as you have done. I, too, might rid myself of the hard task of seeming to be an Elector and reigning sovereign, while I am naught but a poor, much-tormented man, who has more titles than lands, more debts than money, and whose nation consists not of obedient subjects but of obstinate brawlers, a mob of would-be politicians and starved-out people. No! no!" he cried, interrupting himself, "no! I shall not give my son so much joy. I shall not do him the pleasure of yielding up the power to him, and being thrown aside myself like a squeezed lemon. No, Elector I shall remain, and my lordly son shall submit to the paternal will, and return home. Schwarzenberg must provide me with the means. He is the very man for this—he understands it!"

The Elector reached out again for his silver whistle and sounded a shrill call. Immediately one of the outer doors was opened, admitting a lackey. The Elector had already opened his mouth, to issue his commands, when he suddenly grew dumb and looked at the lackey with a still more clouded brow.

"Fellow," he said angrily, "how dare you appear in this presence with such a dress? With your short bearskin jacket and patched hose, you present such a pitiably mean appearance that I am actually ashamed to behold you."

"Pardon, your Electoral Grace," stammered the servant with downcast air, "I can not help it, and I am woefully ashamed myself that I must dare to come thus before my most gracious lord the Elector. A heavy misfortune has happened to my livery coat. I left it hanging on a nail, and tore a fearfully large three-cornered rent in it, on which the court tailor says he will have to stitch a whole day, and even then it may not be presentable after all. The livery coat, therefore, is at the tailor's, which is the reason why I must appear in my jacket."

"You should have put on another coat," cried the Elector, impatiently, "for it is contrary to respect that you should enter in such shabby style."

"Another coat?" asked the lackey, with an expression of the highest astonishment. "Pardon, your Electoral Highness, I have only that one coat!"

"What!" exclaimed the Elector. "Only one coat! Did I not order that new livery coats should be made for you lackeys before our removal from Koenigsberg?"

"It was done, your Electoral Grace, we received our new livery coats before we left Koenigsberg."

"Well, then, where are the old ones?"

"Your Electoral Grace, the master of the wardrobe sold the old ones to the Jews at Koenigsberg, who paid him a good sum of money for them, for the old livery coats were trimmed with genuine gold lace, but the new ones are cheaper, for it is only gilt or—"

"Hold your tongue and begone!" cried the Elector. "If you have no coat, then from to-day I dispense with your services, and Jocelyn shall take your place."

"Forgive me, your Electoral Highness, but Jocelyn is in confinement. The master of the wardrobe had him put in the guardhouse three days ago."

"Wherefore then—what has Jocelyn done that the master of the wardrobe should have him put into prison?"

"He was obstinate, your highness. The paymaster has not distributed to us our wages for two months, so that none of us has a groschen in his pocket. When we reached Berlin, three days ago, Jocelyn found his old mother miserably sick and well-nigh starved, for the Imperialists have thoroughly pillaged Berlin, and robbed the old woman of her last possession. She had nothing to eat, and still less could she afford to send for a doctor and buy medicines. So, in his desperation, Jocelyn went to the paymaster and begged of him his month's wages, but was told that he could have nothing now, because the journey from Prussia here had cost so much money that all the coffers were empty; but that in the course of eight days the paymaster might be in funds again, and that then we should all have what was due us. But, on account of his old mother, Jocelyn could not wait, and so in desperation went off and sold his new livery coat to an old-clothes man, and carried the money to his mother. And for that reason, your Electoral Grace, poor Jocelyn now sits in the guardhouse."

The Elector had turned away, and gazed from the window down into the pleasure garden, the branches of whose green trees nearly touched the windows of the apartment. He could no longer meet the glance of the lackey Conrad; he would not have him witness his mortification and the painful twitchings of his mouth. But after a while he turned again to old Conrad, who had crept softly toward the door, not venturing to go out without permission from his master.

"You see well, old man," said the Elector confidentially, "that our affairs are not in so prosperous a condition as formerly when you entered my service, and were the body servant of the merry, cheerful young Electoral Prince. Now that Electoral Prince has become a very sad, serious, and poverty-stricken Elector, who has lived through much affliction, and must content himself, despite his glorious title, with being a poor tormented man, and therefore also a peevish man. I was once otherwise; that you know. But debts make the wildest tame and the most joyous fretful, as you see in me, old Conrad. But now listen!"

He stepped to his writing table and drew forth a long purse with meshes of green silk and gold. Carefully counting, he shook some money out of the purse into his hand and then handed it to Conrad.

"Conrad, there are twelve dollars. Do you know the Jew to whom Jocelyn sold his livery coat?"

"Yes, I know him, your highness."

"Then go, Conrad, and buy back the coat. How much did the Jew pay for it?"

"Six dollars, your Electoral Highness."

"Return him five dollars for it, and tell him that the dollar subtracted is by way of punishment for his having dared to purchase the coat of one of the servants belonging to the electoral household, for he must know that it is not the lackey's but electoral property. But if the Jew ventures to grumble, then say to him that I shall have him watched and his false dealings inquired into. When you have obtained the coat, carry it to the master of the wardrobe, and tell him to release Jocelyn from the guardhouse and permit him to wear his coat again. Say to him that it is my command. And now go and attend to this matter for me."

"Forgive me, your Electoral Grace, but I know not yet what to do with the rest of the money. When I shall have redeemed Jocelyn's coat with five dollars, there will yet remain seven dollars besides, and I beg of your highness to point out what disposition I must make of them."

"What wages do the lackeys receive by the month?"

"One rixdollar and four groschen, your highness!"

"That makes four dollars and sixteen groschen owing to you and Jocelyn, since the paymaster is in your debt for two months' wages. There will still be a remainder of two dollars and eight groschen, which you must give to Jocelyn to take to his old mother, not, however, as if it came from me, but as his own gift."

"Ah! your Electoral Highness, what a kind, gracious master you are!" cried

Conrad, with tears in his eyes. "Only extend this one act of goodness and condescension: permit your old Conrad to kiss your hand and thank you for the favor your highness has shown to Jocelyn and myself, and be not offended at your old servant for asking such a thing, since it is only out of love and hearty respect."

"I know it, Conrad, I know it," said the Elector, reaching out his hand to the old man, and permitting him to press it to his lips. "I know your good, faithful heart, which has never swerved from its duty these twenty years that you have been in my service. Go now, old man, and do as I have bidden you. But hear! No one need know that I have paid you and Jocelyn your month's wages, for then they would all come to be paid by me; and the paymaster was quite right—our coffers are empty, and we must take account of everything until they are filled again. Keep silent, then, both of you. I shall tell the paymaster myself that I have just meddled a little in his affairs.

"But now, hear one thing more, Conrad. Go straightway across into Broad Street, to the house of his excellency the Stadtholder in the Mark, Count von Schwarzenberg. We request his excellency to take the trouble to come immediately to us. Say from me that we have weighty business to transact with him that admits of no delay. Therefore, we entreat his excellency to come hither forthwith."

"Pardon, your highness," said Conrad, anxiously and confusedly; "my dresscoat is still at the court tailor's. Must I go across in my jacket? At the Stadtholder's everything is so fearfully fine and stately. The lackeys, too, put on such airs that an electoral lackey can not stand up to them at all; they are, besides, haughty, supercilious fellows, who think themselves very grand, and fancy they are something quite uncommon, and almost more than one of us, who are court lackeys to your highness. Would it not make the fellows rejoice to see me in this jacket and—"

"Never mind; go across in your jacket," said the Elector, laughing. "Remember always that you are the servant of the master, and those spruce fellows but the lackeys of the servant, although I must say that the servant is a much richer, more magnificent man than his master. Run and bring the Stadtholder to me!"


"I thank you, Master Gabriel Nietzel, I thank you with my whole heart, for you have indeed prepared me a great pleasure," cried Count Adam von Schwarzenberg, at the same time nodding pleasantly to the young man who stood beside him. Then he was lost again in contemplation of the picture before which they both stood, and which was mounted upon an easel in one of the deep bay windows of the lofty apartment.

"I well knew that my most gracious lord would take pleasure in this glorious work of art," said Master Gabriel Nietzel, smiling, "and therefore have I spared neither expense, toil, nor danger in bringing to your excellency this noble painting of the great Italian master."

"And I am astonished that you have succeeded, master," exclaimed the count, changing his position before the picture, in order to examine it in a new light, from a different point of view.

"Most gracious sir, if I had had in the box which I guarded so closely hams or other edibles, instead of this picture, or even articles of clothing or munitions of war, then surely I should have failed in bringing it here from Italy, considering all the bands of soldiers and robbers who fly through the German empire now, like a swarm of bees, and like locusts leave in their train, wherever they alight, want and wretchedness."

"Yes, yes," cried Count Schwarzenberg, with a short, peculiar laugh, "right ill things look throughout this holy German empire; poverty, war, and pestilence are the locusts of which you speak, and—But why do you remind me of these unpleasant things? Let me enjoy one quarter of an hour's refreshment and joy. Let me forget care for just a little while, and feast my eyes upon the sight of this glorious woman!"

"It is a Venus," said Master Gabriel with diffidence, "the so-called Venus with the Mirror. Master Titian has twice painted this design, only that in one picture two Cupids appear, while the other shows only one Love."

"Very naturally," laughed the count. "When the great Titian painted the first picture one Love only existed, while at the second representation a second Love had arrived for the beautiful woman, to her own ineffable delight and that of her beloved Master Titiano Vecellio."

"Pardon, your excellency," remarked Master Gabriel, "indeed the painting represents a Venus."

"There you are now, poor child of man," cried Schwarzenberg, laughing aloud, "so properly reserved and so affectedly modest! A mere woman in her primitive beauty would wound your sense of propriety, and you would not venture to look at her, but a goddess has permission to appear without earthly clothing, and you dare, casting reserve aside, to lift your eyes to her glorious form. And besides, in your humility and modesty, you think that a woman of such godlike shape may not be found upon earth, therefore you exalt her to the gods, and therefore you call her a Venus, who is only the most voluptuous, beautiful, and charming of women."

With upraised finger Master Gabriel pointed toward the naked little boys who, exquisitely fair, stood behind Venus and held her mirror for her.

"That is an angel, as your grace sees, for he has wings upon his shoulders," he said, timidly.

But Count Adam von Schwarzenberg hastily took the master's finger and directed it to another part of the picture.

"It is a woman," he cried, laughing, "for she has flung a covering around her hips, and you can never make me believe that Venus upon Olympus wore velvet edged with ermine. But let us quit this strife! A beautiful woman is always a goddess, and he who would not acknowledge that would be a real heathen and barbarian. I will therefore comply with your wish, and entitle this wondrous woman a Venus. And I keep her, your Venus. Name the price, master, and you shall immediately receive your pay."

"I paid two thousand ducats for the painting in Cremona, where I had the good luck to discover it, on my return from Rome," replied Master Gabriel Nietzel, with anxious countenance and timid manner, as if he dreaded an explosion of wrath on the part of the count, who was everywhere recognized and decried as avaricious and greedy of gain. "Add to that two hundred ducats to cover my bare outlay for the packing and freight. The rest, which concerns my trouble and need, and the perils I endured when we, that is to say, Venus and I, were seized by bands of soldiers and ransomed—all this can not be calculated, and in humility I leave it to your grace to compensate me as you may see fit."

"Two thousand ducats for the picture, two hundred for expenses incurred! A tolerably high price, indeed, for a little piece of painted canvas!" cried the count, with a smile. "For that amount a whole regiment of Brandenburg soldiers might be armed and equipped, to aid the Elector in conquering his dukedom of Pomerania. But what is that dirty, down-trodden, commonplace Pomerania in comparison with this heavenly woman, or, if you prefer, this earthly Venus. Go, Master Gabriel, go directly to my treasurer, and get him to count out to you three thousand ducats. Eight hundred ducats for your toil and danger. Are you content, master?"

"Your excellence, you pay like the greatest of lords and emperors!" cried the painter, with joy-beaming countenance. "You make me forever your debtor, and so long as I live I shall be ready to serve you."

"Now, if you mean that in earnest, Gabriel, an opportunity presents itself at this very time."

"Try me, your excellency, give me a commission, however difficult, and my most gracious lord shall be forced to admit that I have executed it most faithfully and valiantly."

"Now listen, then, master! I herewith constitute you my agent; I take you into my pay and service. Were I a reigning prince, then I should say, I make you my court painter; but being only the little Count Schwarzenberg, the—"

"Stadtholder in the Mark," interrupted Gabriel, with ready glibness of tongue, "Grand Master of the Order of St. John, first counselor and minister of the Elector of Brandenburg, president of the electoral counsel of state, lord and owner of many lands and estates, count of the empire, and—"

"Silence, silence! enough of that!" exclaimed the count, waving him off. "It is with me, as with the Elector. We both have manifold titles, but they bring us in little enough, and no money appertains to them. You have sketched me graphically, master; be quiet now, and listen to me again in silence. I therefore take you into my pay and service, and give you from this day forward an annuity of five hundred dollars, which will be delivered to you quarterly. Hush, hush! do not speak! I read a question in your eyes and features, and I will forthwith supply the answer. Your question runs, What have I to do for this annuity? And the answer is, travel about in the world as a free man to hunt up pictures, and when they are worth it, to purchase them for me. But above all things, to tell no one that you are in my service, but to keep this as a secret between us two. Pictures you must buy for me; that is all you have to do, master. But sometimes you must allow me to dictate to you—where to journey in quest of my pictures. For example, now: You have been in Italy, prosecuting your studies there, and have opportunely brought home to me, thence, a Venus, because I desired you to make a few purchases for me. You have seen how delighted I was with the beautiful picture, but, on the whole, I have taken a greater fancy to landscapes and representations of comedy, and the Flemish painters are the ones I peculiarly admire. There are the Teniers, father and son, who have painted the most charming and amusing country scenes and comic pieces, and there is another young man, Wouvermann by name, who is said, although youthful in years, to possess great talents, and to understand not merely how to paint splendid clowns, but battle scenes as well. Now, I should like of all things to possess a couple of pictures by each of these three painters, and since the Teniers lived at Amsterdam and The Hague, and Wouvermann now resides at The Hague, I wish you to go to The Hague and make a few purchases there for me. But, mark well, without saying that you come there in my employ, or that you have a contract with me. I should much prefer your assuming the appearance of belonging to my enemies, and sounding in unison with them the trumpet of abuse."

"Your excellency, how could I venture it, and how can you require of my grateful heart, that it so belie itself, and allow my lips to speak other than words of gratitude and reverence?"

"I empower you so to do, Master Gabriel Nietzel, yes, I require it of you, that you carry such words upon your lips, especially if you are in the presence of the Electoral Prince Frederick William."

"The Electoral Prince?" asked the painter in astonishment. "Your excellency will send me to the Electoral Prince at The Hague?"

"On the contrary, you shall act before him as if you hated me, and belonged to the party of my opponents. But you must by all means reach the Electoral Prince, must seek to remain in his neighborhood, and to gain his confidence. You are a lively fellow, and have studied life at its fountains in Italy. The Electoral Prince loves gay company, and you may impart to him a little of your knowledge of life, and teach him that youth must enjoy without scruple or reserve. Be his maitre de plaisir, Master Gabriel; lead him into the temple of art, and teach him that each fair woman is a Venus, a goddess, and therefore deserving of his worship. You are a clever painter, and also, as I have heard from Rome, know well how to sip of life's sweets; and these are two fine talents, which you must convert into money. For this purpose I send you to Holland. You are to buy pictures for me and to help the Electoral Prince to while away the hours and enjoy life. I shall rejoice if you succeed, and it would be agreeable to me for you to transmit to me exact accounts, every week, of your efforts, and of the life you lead there with the Electoral Prince. You can write, Master Gabriel Nietzel?"

"Yes, I can write; but—"

"Well, what signifies that but, and wherefore do you look all at once so gloomy and so cross? Peradventure my commission does not please you?"

"No, your excellency, it does not please me, and I can not undertake it!" cried Master Gabriel, indignantly. "You send me to The Hague, not as a painter, but—let me call the thing by its right name—but as a spy, and, what is yet more, as the corrupter of the Electoral Prince!"

"And that pleases not your virtue and your honesty?" asked the count, shrugging his shoulders. "Well, good then, dear master! Stick to it! Let all that we have said to one another be unsaid. Remain an honorable, independent hero of virtue, paint pictures, and see to it that you sell them, and if you do not succeed, then be contented to paint signboards for merchants and their walls for burghers, and console yourself with this, that you have refused a higher career from principles of virtue and magnanimity. Take your Venus, Master Champion of Virtue; I had not commissioned the purchase, and she is too dear for me. We are released from our mutual obligations, and have nothing more to do with one another. Go!"

"Will not your excellency keep the picture?" asked Nietzel, shocked, great drops of agony standing upon his pale brow. "Will not your excellency indemnify me for all my labors and expenses, and shall I go from you with—"

"With the proud consciousness of your virtue," said the count, completing his sentence for him. "Yes, that you shall, Master Gabriel. You shall bear in mind that Count von Schwarzenberg would have taken you into his service, and that you declined it, thereby exciting his wrath a little, which, as I have been told, has seldom turned to the advantage of those who have roused it, but always to their injury. However, you care nothing for that; you defy the wrath of the Stadtholder in the Mark, you—"

"No farther, please, your excellency, no farther!" cried out Gabriel, pale as death. "Forgive my excitement and my struggles. I pray you to forget my improper words, and accept me for your humble and obedient servant. You must do me the favor to keep the Venus of Master Titiano Vecellio, for she is my only possession, and I have given away my whole property in her purchase."

"Speak more clearly, master!" cried the count. "You mean to say I must keep your copy of the Venus, and pay for it as if it were an original one, for on that you base all your hopes."

"Your excellency!" stammered Master Gabriel in terror, "you do not suppose—"

"That this painting here is a copy, which you executed, and afterward hung up a couple of days in the chimney, to give it the appearance of a picture an hundred years old? Yes, my good man, I do indeed suppose so, and willingly grant you my testimony to the effect that you have very faithfully copied Titian, and expended much toil and trouble upon it."

"Most gracious count, I swear to you, that I have been slandered—that—"

"Swear no oath," said the count earnestly and severely. "You did not buy this picture at Cremona, but copied it in the palace Grimani at Venice, and worked upon it three whole months. You see I am well informed, and have my friends everywhere who furnish me with intelligence, and regard it as an honor to be my—spies, as you would say."

"Mercy, gracious lord, mercy!" cried Nietzel, bursting into tears, and sinking upon his knees before the proud, lofty form of the count. "Pardon for my crime, for my presumption! I was in such great want and distress that I knew not how else to help myself, and I swear to you that my copy is so faithful and exact that it can not he distinguished from its original."

"Well, no matter; we shall hang it up as an original, and allow it to be inspected by the connoisseurs of the electorate," said the count, laughing. "I keep your Titiano Vecellio, Master Nietzel, and consequently pay you three thousand ducats for this excellent original. That you may see how much in earnest I am I will immediately give you an order upon my treasurer, and you may forthwith receive that sum."

He approached his writing table, rapidly dashed off a few words upon a strip of paper, and then handed it to the painter. "There, take it, Master Gabriel Nietzel, and collect your money."

The painter gave him a long, astonished gaze. "You forgive me, your excellency," he said; "you accept my high estimate, although you know that I have cheated you and that this is only a copy?"

"What difference does that make? The picture is beautiful, and it gives me pleasure to look at it, and that is the only thing, after all, that I can require of a painting."

Master Nietzel hastily seized the count's hand, and pressed it to his lips. "Most gracious sir," he cried, "you have purchased my Venus with your money, my heart with your magnanimity! Henceforth I am yours, body and soul, and it is just, as if—"

"As if you had leagued yourself with the devil, is it not?" laughed the count.

"No, as if I had no longer any other will than yours—that is what I wished to say, most gracious lord. Only command me, say what I must do, and it shall be done."

"You go, then, to Holland, and purchase pictures there for me, and study the Flemish painters?"

"I will go to Holland, your excellency."

"You will seek to gain access to the Electoral Prince, to acquire influence over him, and to cheer him up a little?"

"I shall do as your grace directs."

"You will send me weekly a written statement of all that you see and hear there?"

"I shall send you a written statement," replied Gabriel, with downcast eyes and a hardly suppressed sigh.

The count saw it and smiled contemptuously. "You will write these reports to me in ciphers, which I shall acquaint you with, and swear to me that you will give the key to these ciphers to no human being?"

"I swear it, your excellency."

"Now, since you are so docile and obedient, my dear Master Gabriel, I shall raise your salary. I had promised you an annuity of five hundred dollars—I shall now make it six hundred dollars. Hush! no word of thanks; I can imagine them all or read them in your countenance, and that satisfies me. Only one thing remains to be decided. From whom will you receive letters of recommendation to the Electoral Prince?"

"Your excellency, I believe the Electress will have the kindness to furnish me with a letter of recommendation to her son. Her most gracious highness is very favorably inclined toward me because I painted from memory a miniature of the Electoral Prince, and presented it to her. Since then she has been very condescending to me, and never refuses me admittance to her presence, and I may as well acknowledge to your excellency that a few days ago the Electress hinted at the probability of a position being offered me as electoral court painter."

The count laughed aloud. "I congratulate you, master, and especially upon the salary which will be attached to the office. Only do not be puffed up and reject the little I have offered you, which you can always draw in secret, even when you have become electoral court painter. It is well for affairs to stand thus just at this juncture, for it will be easy for the electoral court painter to gain access to the Electoral Prince, and to be received into the number of his household. Repair to the Electress forthwith, tell her that you wish to travel to Holland in order to prosecute your artistic studies there, and come to me early to-morrow morning and acquaint me with the result of your audience. Farewell, Master Gabriel; go first to my treasurer and then to the Electress. No, no, say nothing more; no protestations, no word of thanks. I know you—that is enough."

With proud, courtly mien he nodded to the painter in token of dismissal, waved his hand toward the door, and then seated himself in the window niche beside the Venus, turning his back to the room.

Abashed and humiliated, Gabriel slunk away, and not until the sound of the closing door gave warning of his departure did the count turn around. His gaze was fixed upon the Venus, who in her wanton beauty met his looks with dark, flashing eyes.

"You have cost me much, fair signora," he said, shrugging his shoulders.

"Three thousand ducats for a copy! Who knows whether Titiano Vecellio was paid more for his original in his own time? Ah! you poor, beautiful woman, how dismal and cheerless it will seem to you in the cold north, and how much you will miss the golden light of your sunny Italian home here in this dirty northern Mark! We two must console one another, and try to forget that we do not live in your own fair Italy, but here, here, where there is more rain than sunshine, and where in place of music we often hear nothing but the grunting of swine and the bleating of sheep!"

And, as if in confirmation of his words, just then was heard from the street a loud tumult, a confused discord of grunts and squeals. The count turned from the Italian beauty, and looked out into the street, or, rather, the great square fronting his palace.[8] The rain, which had streamed down incessantly for a few days past, had drenched the unpaved ground, and here and there, where the soil was impermeable to moisture, had formed puddles and pools. These, the sheep and hogs, which were ensconced in stalls before the houses, had chosen for their pleasure ground, and whole herds of them had come to bathe in these puddles before Count Schwarzenberg's palace and in the neighborhood of the cathedral. A few merry, naughty boys, attracted by their squealing and bleating, likewise ventured into the black sea of the cathedral square, but, finding that they forthwith sank in the same, they had called for help, shouting, screaming, and laughing, thereby attracting still other boys and idlers, who now with prudent caution stood on certain less saturated spots, and with shrieks of mockery and laughter watched the vain efforts of the sunken boys, who were striving to work themselves out of the morass. Such was the melancholy picture that presented itself to Count Adam von Schwarzenberg, and he gazed upon it with sad and gloomy looks.

"And this is the residence of the Stadtholder in the Mark!" he sighed—"the outlook of von Schwarzenberg, count of the empire! Oh! it shall be otherwise! Out of this pigstye Berlin, I will construct a neat and handsome residence for myself, from this miserable house a splendid palace shall spring forth, and all the arts and sciences shall find their patron in the lord commanding in the Mark, when he is no longer merely called Stadtholder, but—"

He looked anxiously behind him, as if he dreaded being overheard by some one. "Hush!" he murmured then, "be still! There are thoughts and plans which may never find expression in words, but, like Minerva from the brain of Jupiter, must come forth ready for action, spear in hand. Creep back into my heart, and never let it be perceived that you are there, until the right hour shall come, the hour—"

He was silent, and again glanced searchingly around. Then, taking the silver whistle from his writing table, he let ring forth a shrill, loud call. A lackey in rich livery, its original material totally hidden beneath a mass of golden trappings and silver lace, appeared in the doorway.

"Who is in the antechamber?" asked the count, casting a long, last glance upon the Venus, and then covering her again with the green stuff that hung at the corner of the frame.

"Most gracious excellency, both entrance halls are crammed quite full of men of every rank and calling, for this is the hour for public audience."

"Are many uniforms present?"

"If you please, your excellency, very many. Besides General von Klitzing and Colonel Conrad von Burgsdorf, the Colonels von Rochow and von Kracht are there."

"These four gentlemen must be admitted to me," ordered the count. "The other people had better go, for I have no time to-day to grant audiences. Well, why do you stand there loitering? Why do you not go?"

"Most gracious sir," entreated the lackey, "there are so many distinguished gentlemen there, who have already come so often in vain, and to whom I have promised an audience to-day, in accordance with your excellency's express command."

"Who, for example?"

"For example, your excellency, the councilors of the cities of Berlin and Cologne, then the states of the duchy of Cleves, and—"

"Enough, enough! I see well that these lords have paid you to put me in mind of them, and I shall therefore have the complaisance to do honor to your intercession."

"Alas! most gracious lord, I swear to your grace, that nobody has paid me, that—"

"Silence! I know you all!" cried the count contemptuously. "I know that every audience day brings as much money to you lackeys as it prepares discomfort and weariness for me. Pocket your money quietly, honest Balthazar; you are no worse than all the rest of the servant brood and therefore I despise you no more than the rest. Go, conduct hither the military gentlemen named through the corridor, and meanwhile I shall take a walk through the audience chamber and you collect your pay."

The gold-bedizened lackey left the cabinet with reverential and submissive air. But outside, he remained standing before the closed door, and boldly lifting up his head, with wholly altered face, hurled a look of hatred and defiance at the door.

"No worse than all the rest of the servant brood!" he muttered, raising his fist in a threatening manner—"no worse than yourself, you should have said, proud lord. You receive bribes as well as we, take money wherever you can get it, lend upon pledges, and practice usury like any Jew! Ah! we know you, haughty count, the whole Mark of Brandenburg knows and detests you, and it is a sin and shame that we must bow down before the Catholic alien, the foreigner, the imperialist, the priest-ridden slave, and it is a dreadful misfortune that the Elector himself bows down before him, and acts as if Schwarzenberg were lord here, and he a mere servant. Well," he comforted himself, letting his fist drop, "I can not alter it, and father says what we can not alter we had better submit to, and profit by a little, if we can. I will now guide these gentlemen bullies to the count's cabinet."

Count Adam von Schwarzenberg had meanwhile opened the door to his little private antechamber, and caused to enter his officiating equery and chamberlain, von Lehndorf, as also his two pages in waiting.

"Lehndorf," he said, "what think you? Would it be possible to arrange a small hunting party for to-day?"

"Most gracious sir," returned the chamberlain joyfully, "the weather seems just made for that. A clear, bright October day, and the does and stags in the park deserve that a couple of dozen of them should be shot down, for they have grown so bold that they hardly show any longer their wonted fear of man. Would your excellency believe that yesterday four does, under the guidance of a powerful buck, were pleased to issue forth from the park behind the castle and promenade a little in the worshipful towns of Berlin and Cologne? Such a screaming as there was of the street boys, who pursued the beasts, such a grunting of hogs, into whose styes the does sprang without respect, and such a running of honorable city women, who were struck with fear of being maltreated by the horned animals, who were nevertheless not their husbands, and such a yelping of noble butcher dogs, which probably took the does for calves gone mad! I swear, your excellency, it was divine sport."

1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11     Next Part
Home - Random Browse