Tales from the German. Volume I. by Velde, C. F. van der (Carl Franz)
1. Page scan source: http://www.archive.org/details/talesfromgerman00greegoog 2. Footnote is located at the end of the book. 3. The diphthong oe is represented by [oe].
FROM THE GERMAN
BY NATHANIEL GREENE.
BOSTON: AMERICAN STATIONERS' COMPANY, JOHN B. RUSSELL.
BOSTON: Samuel N. Dickinson, Printer, 52, Washington Street.
Most men, whatever the nature of their avocations, have, or may have, occasional hours of leisure and relaxation. To spend those hours profitably as well as pleasantly, should be a study: to spend them harmlessly, is a duty. Among other recent employments of the little leisure afforded me by absorbing official occupations, has been an attempt to gain some knowledge of the language and literature of Germany; and among the results of that attempt, are manuscript translations of several pleasant and interesting tales from various German authors, some of which I have been led to suppose might prove acceptable to our reading public. Those now presented are taken almost at random from the thirteen volumes of Van der Velde's works, of which they are a fair specimen. Their principal value consists in their faithful illustration of interesting portions of history not generally familiar. They have, besides, the merit of a peculiarly simple and unpretending style, that gives them an additional charm, and which I have endeavored to preserve in the translation. Whether that endeavor has been successful, however, and whether the English dress I have substituted for the graceful German garb, is worthy of the author and suited to the public taste, are questions upon which I feel somewhat doubtful and apprehensive. Should the reader answer them in the affirmative, I shall have the consolation of feeling that the leisure devoted to the work has been harmlessly, if not profitably, employed.
It is proper to add, that in a few cases I have taken the liberty to omit some passages, and to alter others, that were deemed incompatible with the ideas of propriety and decorum prevalent in this country.
BOSTON, NOVEMBER, 1837.
A TALE OF THE EARLY PART OF THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY.
BY C. F. VAN DER VELDE,
* * * * *
In October of the year 1718, the royal counsellor, Nils count Gyllenstierna, was sitting before his desk in his cabinet at Stockholm. Behind him stood Arwed, his son, a tall Swedish youth with blue eyes and golden hair, whose rosy countenance wore a decided expression of courage and resolution. The father suddenly turned his moveable chair so as to face the youth.
'One word is as good as a thousand!' cried he, angrily; 'dismiss for the present your heroic aspirations. You are too young for this war.'
'Not younger than our king was,' quickly answered Arwed, 'when he beat the Danes by Humblebeck and the Muscovites by the Narva!'
'It is a great misfortune for a land when its king is a Don Quixote,' grumbled the senator; 'every fool in the kingdom quotes his example as authority.'
'O, do not calumniate the hero,' entreated Arwed, feelingly. 'Sweden has had no greater king since Gustavus Adolphus.'
'Nor has she had one who has brought more misery upon the land replied the senator. 'Do not suppose, my son,' proceeded he, calmly, 'that I underrate the qualifications of our lord the king. He has given proof of many, any one of which would render some other princes immortal. He is firm, liberal, brave, just, and knows how to maintain the royal dignity. But all these heroic virtues have, by excess, become more dangerous in him than would be their opposite vices. His firmness, becoming obstinacy, caused his misfortune at Pultowa and rendered him for five painful years the dependant and prisoner of the Turks; his liberality, degenerated into wastefulness, has ruined Sweden; his courage, carried in most cases to the utmost extent of foolhardiness, has led hundreds of thousands of his subjects to butchery or the Siberian mines; his justice has often become cruelty, and the maintenance of his royal prerogative, tyranny.'
'Cruelty and tyranny!' repeated Arwed. 'Surely you judge the greatest man in Europe too severely.'
'Do you remember the Livonian, Patkul?' asked the father--'Patkul, who was compelled, contrary to private right and international law, to make such dreadful atonement for what he had done in behalf of his native land? His horrible death is a dark stain upon Charles's character, and no laurel wreath will ever so conceal the deed that posterity will not discover it on the tablets of history.'
'So also are there spots upon the sun,' said Arwed with some degree of irritation. 'The spirit of the party to which you have attached yourself, my father, permits you to see only the dark side of his character.'
'My party spirit will never sway my judgment,' indignantly replied the senator. 'The true patriot is governed only by a desire to promote his country's welfare, in choosing and adhering to his party. Were the government of our king less arbitrary I would joyfully unite myself with his party; but with monarchs like him, the public good requires an opposition, and every honest-minded nobleman should take his stand upon that side.'
'It does not become me to dispute with you upon such topics,' said Arwed, soothingly. 'As yet I have no voice in public affairs. My arm only is needed. To that, however, in my opinion, my country has a righteous claim; and the question now is, not whether, the king has always chosen the best course for the welfare of his realm, but whether the decision which he has now irrevocably made shall be maintained with blood and treasure. Therefore permit me to go this time, my dear father.'
'Well argued, my son,' said the elder Gyllenstierna gruffly, turning his attention again to his papers; 'but the father has a will of his own, and considers himself as much a sovereign in his own house, as Charles XII is in his kingdom. The king's sinful passion for war has already made a sufficient number of childless parents. I will not make to it the offering of my only son.'
'What is my insignificant life in comparison with Sweden's welfare?' cried Arwed with enthusiasm.
'Sweden's welfare!' said the father, turning towards him again. 'How can Sweden's welfare be promoted by this unholy war? Instead of attempting to regain our blessed German territories, which our enemies have divided among themselves, we go forth to the conquest of Norway, which can never repay the blood and treasure she must cost, and will never be truly loyal unless when garrisoned by our troops.'
'To me it appears to be a noble attempt,' said Arwed, 'to conquer a part of his own states from an enemy who has taken so much from us.'
'It appears so to you,' answered his father, 'because you are a young simpleton, who are dazzled by the brilliancy of the enterprise. Would to God there were not even older fools who hold the same opinions. However wise or foolish this expedition may be, you can take no part in it. You have your answer, with which you will please retire and leave me alone. I have pressing business.'
He turned again to his table and immediately resumed his writing. Arwed remained standing there with a sad countenance, his large blue veins swelling almost to bursting. His lips were already parting to reply, but he recollected himself and left the cabinet with passionate haste.
Startled by the loud slamming of the door, the senator peevishly turned his eyes in that direction;--near it he saw a little billet lying upon the floor, which he took up and brought to his writing table.
'A three-cornered billet,' murmured he, examining it. 'Fine gilt-edged paper, redolent of perfume,--it must be a love-letter!' He cut the delicate knot which served for a seal, and, as he read, his brows became knitted with anger. Then seizing a silver bell which lay upon the table before him, he rung it violently. 'My secretary!' cried he to the servant who answered the bell.
'Very tender,' said he, after having re-perused the note. 'An amorous intrigue at court, and yet the youth desirous of engaging in the Norwegian war! It is strange--but it pleases me.'
Brodin, the count's secretary, an old, true, experienced, hereditary servant, now stepped softly into the cabinet, gently closing the door after him.
'A billet-doux, that my son has just dropped here,' cried the senator, advancing and handing the letter to him. 'It is signed with the name only of Georgina. Who is this Georgina?'
'I am not indeed so happy,' answered the secretary, with a satyr-like smile, 'as to know the christian names of all the females with whom count Arwed might possibly form tender connections. Nevertheless, I have provided myself, partly from curiosity and partly that I might be enabled to answer inquiries, with a genealogical list of those ladies now resident at Stockholm, from which some pertinent information may perhaps be gained. Fortunately I have the list now with me, if your excellency will condescend to make present use of it,--however, I cannot guarantee that you will find there the Georgina in question, as the taste of my lord, your son, like that of other young cavaliers, may possibly have led him into a lower circle, of which hitherto I have been unable to find any tolerably correct catalogue.'
'Produce it!' cried the senator, with ill-humor;--and the secretary drew forth his geneological list.
'H-m, h-m,' hummed he, perusing it. 'I cannot find any Georgina, and yet the name must be very common at Stockholm. '_Eureka_!' he suddenly exclaimed; 'here stands a Georgina! but whether it be the right one must be determined by further evidence.'
'Come, be expeditious!' impatiently cried old Gyllenstierna.
'Georgina Henrike Dorothea Baroness von Goertz,' read Brodin, 'daughter of George Heinrich Freiherrn von Goertz, privy counsellor and lord marshal of the duke of Holstein Gottorp Durchlaucht, and temporary prime minister and director of the finance commission of his royal Swedish majesty.'
'He is out of his senses!' loudly exclaimed Gyllenstierna, interrupting his secretary in his tedious narration. 'The maiden is yet but a mere child!'
'According to my notes, past fourteen,' replied the secretary; 'but she looks as if she were eighteen. She has been confirmed this year at the time of Easter; and has thereby acquired, as it were, a privilege in regard to such love affairs; besides, she is the only Georgina among the ladies of this capital.'
'Indeed!' cried the senator, 'the youth flies high--that cannot be denied, and is most gratifying to me. But a Goertz! Never!'
Startled by the vehemence of this _never_, the secretary shrunk back for a moment--but, again approaching his master, 'might I presume,' said he, submissively, in favor of the count Arwed, 'to state that a connection with the family of the premier cannot diminish the lustre of the house of Gyllenstierna, but on the contrary must conduce greatly to its advantage.'
'Heigh, heigh, Brodin!' exclaimed old Gyllenstierna. 'Have you grown gray at court and yet understand no better how to make skilful combinations? Could I forgive this foreigner that he has foisted himself upon Sweden, that he rules her as tyrannically as her sovereign himself, and that he would willingly grind her in the dust with his chimerical experiments--yet would sound policy forbid every connection with his family. His authority is ephemeral. He stands with the king and must fall with him. The _living_ Charles might venture to send his boot to Stockholm to preside in the council instead of himself. The minister of the _deceased_ Charles will have a difficult task--and will be compelled to exert himself to save honor and life in the catastrophe which will doubtless occur.'
'Our royal master is yet but thirty-six years of age,' observed Brodin: 'and is a giant in mental and physical strength.'
'But he daily sets his life upon a cast in the dangerous game of war,' answered Gyllenstierna. 'Instead of avoiding personal danger, as a royal commander should, he seeks it more recklessly than the lowliest soldier of his army. No, that guaranty is very unsafe. It would be folly to confide in the fortunate star of Goertz, and senselessly bind myself to him by the ties of blood. Arwed must give up his foolish love.'
'That,' said Brodin, rubbing his hands, 'will be likely to be rendered difficult by the headstrong disposition of the young lord.'
'I am aware of it,' said Gyllenstierna. 'Yet when I have the will and the power, I never suffer an interruption of my course. Arwed has just now been soliciting leave to join the Norwegian expedition. He shall set off for Norway this very night, and thus will his attention be directed to other affairs.'
'But the precious life of the only heir of your noble house?' exclaimed Brodin sorrowfully.
'A Gyllenstierna must inure himself to the hardships of war,' answered the senator resolutely. 'All bullets do not hit, and even the worst that could happen would not be to me so severe an affliction as this mad connection. See that Arwed's equipments are prepared, and let my carriage be driven to the door. I will to the vice-regent. Call my son hither, and prepare for him a letter of introduction to lieutenant general Armfelt. I will sign it on my return.'
Ominously shaking his head, Brodin left the room, and the senator again carefully read through the love letter. 'His sudden passion for war is now clear to me,' cried he at last. 'It is that he may soon become of sufficient consequence to enable him to woo successfully the daughter of the all-powerful favorite, who stands too high for the undistinguished son of a simple count and senator of Sweden. I am sorry for thee, poor youth, but thy plan must be abandoned.'
'You have commanded my presence my father,' said Arwed, who with a discontented face now entered the cabinet.
'I have reflected further upon your request,' answered the senator. 'I will for this time let the child have his way, to stop his weeping. As soon as your letters of introduction are ready you will set off for the army. From conquered Drontheim shall I expect your first letter.'
'Am I going to Armfelt's corps?' asked Arwed aghast.
'What a question!' observed the father. 'The lieutenant general is my old friend. He will receive you with open arms, and give you an advantageous position.'
'I much regret,' said Arwed, 'that with my thanks for granting my first request, I must prefer a new one. I cannot, indeed, take the letter of recommendation, dear father, and I would not be indebted to old friendship for a commission. What I can win upon the field of honor, that may I thank myself for.'
'Overstrained ideas,' murmured the father peevishly. You will regret the want of patronage when, experience shall have taught you how far merit can go without it.'
'In war the good will of one's comrades is necessary,' proceeded Arwed. 'The soldier who is pushed forward through favoritism, must renounce it; and under Armfelt I foresee that I could not avoid being improperly favored. Wherefore I beg of you to let me go without recommendation to our king before Frederickshall.'
'Even to the most hopeless expedition of the whole campaign!' cried the father. 'Before that unlucky city which during the last year has cost Sweden her military renown, an entire third of her army, and very nearly the life of her king,--where peasants and serving maids suddenly became more furious than the hostile elements and put to flight the conqueror of Moscow. How hast thou become possessed of this foolish fancy?'
'I desire that Sweden's hero should witness my first essay in arms,' answered Arwed.
'Overweening self confidence!' said the father. 'I trust that thou wilt every where maintain the honor of our name, and the coolness of age sees farther than the heat of youth. The king has not yet learned to be sparing of his soldiers, as there is none but God to call him to account for his conduct. The general has more restricted duties. And although I appreciate eagerness for action and am disposed to satisfy it, yet I cannot consent to place your life at the disposal of Charles's mad humour. You go to Armfelt.'
'Dear father!' implored Arwed, and at that moment the valet-de-chambre entered with the count's hat and sword and announced that the carriage was ready.
'It is settled,' said the senator in the most decided manner to his son, whilst he buckled on his sword. 'I will hear nothing further in opposition to my determination.'
He snatched his hat violently from the servant, and hastily sallied forth.
'This is hard!' said the afflicted Arwed. 'Must I obey?' he asked himself after a moment's pause,--'Why torment myself!' cried he finally. 'Gushes not for me, in one kind heart, the silver fountain of goodness and wisdom? She shall tell me what is right in the struggle between filial duty and my own better conviction. She shall decide.'
Alone, with folded arms, on the following evening, Arwed wandered up and down the northern bank of the Suedermalm in the new volunteer uniform, anxiously glancing across lake Malar towards the magnificent city of Stockholm, which there arose with its palaces, cupolas and towers, proud and lordly as became the queen of those waters. The sun had already gone down, but it yet glowed redly upon the waves of the lake, gently ruffled by a soft west wind, and its last rays glistened upon the knob of the high towers of St. Gertrude, which it lighted up like a giant star shining through the incipient twilight. With earnest attention the youth's eyes glided from tower to tower and from palace to palace, until they finally remained fixed upon that of the royal residence, which in consequence of the continued impoverishment of the treasury had not been rebuilt since the fire that destroyed it twenty years before.
'What horrible desolation in the midst of so much splendor!' said Arwed mournfully to himself. 'The ruins of the royal castle almost appear to me to be symbols of the decay of this noble realm! Yet also this palace,' proceeded he, consoling himself with the light-mindedness of youth, 'will one day again rise from its ashes, perhaps more beautiful than before. Lost lands can be conquered again, new generations will come to fill up the vacancies caused by the sword, and soon perhaps will Europe tremble again before the mighty roar of the Swedish lion.'
A splash in the water interrupted the proud prophecy. A row-boat from the Ritterholm cut through the stream and neared the bank. Two ladies in plain dark cloaks and covered with white veils, stepped from the boat. 'Georgina,' cried Arwed in ecstasy, springing towards her. With light, nimble steps one of the ladies, a slender and delicately formed figure, approached and affectionately extended to him her right hand, while her left was employed in withdrawing the veil from her youthful and lovely face.
'My Georgina!' he joyfully repeated, leading her to a seat upon the rocky bank, whilst the other lady remained standing at some distance, sending from under her veil in every direction her scrutinizing glances, so as to be enabled to warn the youthful pair betimes of any troublesome witness who might interrupt the happy interview.
The beauteous Georgina fixed her affectionate gaze upon the beloved youth, but with softened feelings which filled her dark eyes with tears. 'By your dress I see,' said she with emotion, 'that this is our parting hour--and I thank thee that I have been hitherto kept in ignorance of it, so that I was enabled to enjoy the anticipation of this meeting without alloy.'
'Yes, dearest maiden,' answered Arwed: 'my wishes are accomplished, my father's kindness has opened to me the path of honor, which I dare to hope will enable me to deserve and obtain thee. That I may hereafter be entirely thine, I now leave thee. Thou wilt again see me, crowned with the laurels of victory, or thou wilt hear that I have bravely fought and fallen worthy of thee and myself.'
'Oh, Arwed,' faintly murmured the almost breathless maiden, reclining her beauteous head upon his breast and turning her eyes upon his face with a look of gentle reproach. 'Must it then be so? Thou hast indeed always asserted this sad necessity, but I could never bring myself to believe it. Credit me, my father is good, and by no means so haughty and violent as the Swedes consider him. Ungrateful men indeed, hate him--but he loves his newly adopted country. Thy house is one of the most honorable--and even if he had other plans respecting me, he would not be able to withstand my prayers if I dutifully opened my heart to him.'
'I love thee with all my soul, Georgina,' said Arwed with flashing eyes: 'but at the same time Swedish pride claims its rights. It would be disgraceful to a Gyllenstierna to be indebted to the prayers and tears of the daughter for the consent of the proud stranger. And if your father should now ask me what I had hitherto done for the honor of the name which his child is to bear, and I could answer him nothing except that I had read Greek and Latin with my tutor and listened to a few college lectures at Upsala, I should sink into the earth for shame. Yet not for that cause alone do I grasp the sword. With it I hope to gain the favor of the king and independence of my father, who, though he truly loves me, will hardly with a good will consent to the proposed connection. Besides, having long since decided on my course, I beg that you will not make more difficult by your sorrow a step which is already sufficiently afflicting, since it separates me from you.'
'Cruel, perverse man!' said Georgina, kissing him. 'Yes, your sex are our tyrants, and the worst of it is, that the more pitilessly you torment us through your pride and severity, the more ardently we love you. What can the poor feeble maiden do but submit to the hard fate which her Arwed decrees--and henceforth weep, hope, wish, until her lot is indissolubly united with his.' She dried her tears, and then with assumed resolution asked; 'when do you leave?'
'This night I depart for Norway,' answered Arwed, 'but whether for the north or the south, you must decide for me.'
'_I_?' asked Georgina, trembling: 'you mock me.'
'You know the reasons,' proceeded Arwed, 'which induce me to desire to repair to Frederickshall. But my father insists with inexorable severity, that I shall go to Armfelt, which he prefers as the better path for promotion, and from fear that the reckless temerity of the king may expose my life to unnecessary danger. I believe, however, that the aversion which the fiery old aristocrat retains so firmly against the great Charles, is the principal cause of his obstinacy. Now counsel me Georgina. Uninfluenced by party hatreds, and all the low springs of action which prevail in this kingdom setting brother against brother, standest thou there, like a good angel, above the thunder and the death-cry of the battle field, and only lookest down compassionately upon the wild tumult.--With thee I shall find the truth, or nowhere. Shall I follow the conquering path of the great king, inspired by his presence, and perhaps rewarded with his approbation whenever an opportunity for good service may occur, and struggle to obtain the chaplet of honor through my own deservings; or shall I, in obedience to the arbitrary will of my father, repair to Armfelt's corps for the purpose of supplanting meritorious warriors by means of a wicked favoritism? Decide! What you advise, that will I do.'
'Thou art magnanimous, Arwed,' said Georgina, smiling through her tears. 'Thou wishest to flatter a maiden's vanity, so that she may the less acutely feel the sorrow of parting. How shall I be so presumptuous as to counsel a youth who is as headstrong as ever could have been the king himself?'
'Upon my honor!' cried Arwed impatiently, 'I desire thy counsel in real earnest. My own feelings have long since decided,--but I wish to be governed not by my own feelings, but by what is right, and that I find only in thy clear soul.'
'Thou demandest of me the performance of a delicate and responsible duty,' said Georgina with emotion. 'Were I to obey only the voice of anxiety which speaks so loudly for thee in a loving maiden's bosom, I had quickly decided--as, with the king is undoubtedly the greatest danger. But in this case the voice of honor must also be heard, and thy honor is also mine.'
'Such language is Worthy of a Swedish maiden!' cried Arwed, warmly embracing her.
'Nor is honor alone to be considered,' proceeded Georgina. 'The question of filial duty is also an important one. Thy father hath declared his will, and I am not presumptuous enough to counsel disobedience to him.'
'My God!' cried Arwed disconsolately. 'I now stand just where I did before--and if I would ever come to a conclusion, like Alexander I must cut the knot I cannot untie.'
'Move not towards the north, young hero!' whispered, all of a sudden in the evening stillness, a low hoarse voice, as if from heaven.
Georgina shrieked with alarm and covered her eyes with her hands. Arwed sprang in a rage from his rocky seat, and drew his sword. 'Who here gives his counsel unasked?' thundered he among the rocks above him, on whose top he observed through the fading twilight a tall human form, wrapped in a gray mantle.
'One wiser than thou,' answered the apparition, 'and who means thee well.'
'What have I to fear in the north?' hastily asked Arwed.
'An inglorious death!' answered the unknown, and instantly vanished.
'Strange,' said Arwed, slowly returning his sword to its scabbard.
'Now am I to decide!' cried Georgina, tremblingly attaching herself to him. 'Obey the voice, Arwed, it appeared to be that of a friend.'
'Prophecies were always disagreeable to me,' said Arwed. 'Imposition or fanaticism, it makes no difference. Now am I almost determined to go to Armfelt, merely to prove that I give no heed to such jugglery.'
'Hast thou forgotten what there awaits thee?' anxiously asked Georgina.
'An inglorious death would indeed be the greatest calamity that could befal me,' said Arwed; 'and the voice sounded so honest.'
'If thou lovest me, obey it,' implored Georgina,--and at that moment her companion approached to remind her that it was high time to return to the city.
'Fare thee well, my beloved life!' said Arwed, locking the sobbing maiden in his arms.
'Thou goest to Frederickshall?' inquired she, faintly.
'Hast thou not united the wish with my love?' asked the youth in return, and long and silently he pressed her beloved form to his bosom.
'Hasten, baroness!' anxiously entreated her companion.
Georgina finally forced herself from his embrace. 'I believe in a good God!' exclaimed she with a sort of inspiration: 'we shall meet again.'
The ladies proceeded to the boat which was waiting for them. Arwed remained standing silently on the spot where he had received Georgina's last kiss, gazing after the receding boat, until it disappeared in the shadow which the old Gothic church of the Ritterholm, behind which the moon was now rising, threw over the waters of the Malar.
The Swedish trumpets were sounding and the drums beating an alarm, as Arwed and his groom rode into the camp before Frederickshall. In every direction the footsoldiers were parading before their barracks under arms, and the cavalry were standing by their horses, ready to mount. With great trouble Arwed pressed his steed through the warlike throng, and finally arrived at the quarters of the king,--where he paused, looking in every direction for some one to announce him.
At length, an aged officer, in a general's uniform, came along the passage-way between the tents, bending his steps towards the royal barrack. The sentinel at the door presented arms to him. Acknowledging the courtesy in a kindly manner, his glance fell upon Arwed. 'Do you seek any one here, my son?' asked he in a friendly tone.
'An audience of the king,' answered Arwed: 'of whom I have a personal request to make.'
'The king is now pressingly engaged,' said the general. 'The princes of Hesse and Holstein-Gottorp are with him. If you are willing to entrust your business with me I will faithfully communicate it to him.'
'I thankfully acknowledge your goodness, general,' answered Arwed. 'I am convinced that my request to be enrolled in the army might safely be confided to your hands; but I am very desirous to see the face of my king, a happiness which I have never yet enjoyed. I was not yet born when he left Stockholm.'
'Whither he has never since returned, I know,' said the general with a heavy sigh. 'You look so fresh and true hearted that I will do what you desire. Come with me.'
Arwed followed the general. The door of the royal chamber at that moment opened. A man was standing by a table, upon which were lying a bible, a map of Norway and a plan of Frederickshall. His blue, unornamented riding coat, with large brass buttons, his narrow black neck-stock, his thin locks, which bristled in every direction, the broad yellow leather shoulder-band, from which his long sword depended, and his large cavalry boots, would have led to the conclusion that he was a subaltern officer,--but his tall, noble figure, his beautiful forehead, his large soft blue eyes, and his well formed nose, gave to his whole appearance something so majestic, and so highly distinguished him from two embroidered, starred and ribboned lords who were with him in the room, that Arwed instantly recognized his hitherto unknown king.
'The trenches opened on the fourth,' said the king, fretfully tracing upon the plan with his finger. 'They ought to be further advanced!'
'Certainly, your majesty!' answered Arwed's protector in a sad tone. 'One feels tempted to believe that he who conducts these works either cannot or will not advance them, and it must be conceded that colonel Megret understands his business.'
'I know what you would say, Duecker,' said Charles with a severe countenance. 'But I will give you a useful lesson. You must not speak ill of any one when you are speaking with your king.'
Making an effort to suppress his feelings, and followed by the scornful smile of the eldest prince, Duecker retired,--whilst the other, a youth of about Arwed's age, amused himself with examining the new comer with a far from becoming hauteur.
The king, following the glance of his nephew, perceived Arwed and advanced towards him.
'Who?' asked he with some embarrassment.
'Gyllenstierna,' answered Arwed with a profound inclination: 'a Swedish nobleman, who begs of your majesty that be may be permitted to fight under your banners.'
'Count Gyllenstierna?' inquired Charles, leaning on his giant sword, 'The father is a determined opponent of my administration!' said he to his brother-in-law, as Arwed bowed affirmatively, and a convulsive smile distorted the lips of his well-formed mouth.
'Yet full of devotion for his king and his native land!' earnestly interposed Arwed. 'If your majesty will but permit his son to prove it.'
The king gave him a complacent look. 'I am now about to take the battery called the Golden Lion from the Danes,' said he: 'you can remain by my side.'
'Heaven reward your majesty!' cried Arwed in ecstasies, and seized the hand of the hero to kiss it.
'I like not that,' said the king, hastily withdrawing his hand,--and at that moment adjutant general Siquier, a slender Frenchman, with a cunning but wasted face, entered the room.
'Every thing is in readiness for the attack, your majesty!' announced he.
'God with us, comrades!' exclaimed the king, putting on his immense gauntlets of yellow leather.
'This attack will cost many men!' said Duecker, in an under tone to the young duke.
'Oh!' whispered Siquier, who overheard the remark, 'a great French general under whom I once served was accustomed to say before the slaughter: 'If God will but remain neutral to-day, then shall these Messieurs be finely flogged.''
The king, who was already at the door, once more returned. 'Your great general,' said he to Siquier,--indignant at the quotation of the irreverent speech,--'spoke then like a great fool.'
With a countenance which badly concealed his rage at this unexpected reproof, Siquier cast down his eyes, and the warriors silently followed their heroic leader.
The entrenchments of the Golden Lion were thronged with red-coats. With the battle cry, 'God with us!' the Swedish battalions charged upon them. Then opened the battery upon its assailants, hurling death among their ranks from twenty thundering throats of fire. Unmoved, at first, the warriors saw their comrades falling on either hand, and pressed bravely onward. Now, however, the grape and canister shot of the enemy began its work of destruction, and in constantly increasing rapidity of succession sank the victims in their blood, until finally the weakened survivors gave ground and slowly retreated.
The king, surrounded by his retinue, sat upon his charger, within the range of the enemy's artillery, as quietly as if at a review. Arwed, at his side, observed this new spectacle with a spirit-stirring pleasure. Presently one of the weakened and retreating battalions came near the king. With indignation in his eye he sprang to meet them. 'You are Swedes,' thundered he, 'and do you fly? Back to the enemy!'
'We have lost all our officers, your majesty!' cried an old corporal.
Trembling with eager desire to enter the lists, Arwed instantly threw himself out of his saddle, and asked, his foot still in the stirrup: 'may I lead these troops once more against the battery?'
'You may make the attempt!' replied the king kindly to him, and immediately galloped to the other side of the battery, where also the Swedes had begun to give ground. In a transport of joy Arwed sprang from his horse, drew his sword, and cried to the soldiers: 'in the king's name, halt, left wheel!'
The soldiers obeyed, and Arwed placed himself at their head.
'Think of the hero whose soldiers you are,' cried he: 'and of your own glory; and, in God's name, march!'
'God be with us!' cried the newly encouraged band, rushing on after their leader. Several lives were lost in the advance, but the main part, strengthened by the fragments of the other battalions, soon stood by the palisades safely sheltered from the fire of the enemy's cannon. But now the little musket balls whistled from the breastworks, and murderous grenades were bursting among them at almost every moment.
'Force out the palisades and pass the trench!' commanded Arwed, and with prodigious strength he removed some of the pales, which he placed over the hard frozen ditch and pushed forward. The soldiers followed the example, and the opposite side of the wall was soon covered with the clambering troops. The Danes defended themselves with great fury, and the dear victory was purchased with the sacrifice of many Swedish lives. Two musket balls passed through Arwed's hat, but in an instant thereafter, he stood upon the breastwork and pierced the heart of one of the marksmen with his sword. A bayonet-thrust of the other grazed his cheek. This one fell under the blows given by the clubbed muskets of the closely following Swedes, and soon the Swedish banner floated proudly over the stormed works.
Meanwhile the king, who had been attempting an entrance on the other side of the wall, hastened hither at the head of one of his battalions, and the few remaining Danes threw down their arms and begged for quarter.
'What, before me, upon the walls!' cried the royal hero, embracing the bleeding Arwed. 'There is yet a true Swede! You are a captain of the guards, Gyllenstierna.'
'We have two companies, prisoners,' said Siquier, stepping up to the king with a sanguinary expression of countenance. They have compelled us to storm the place, and their lives are forfeited. Does your majesty command their execution?'
'Right, Siquier,' answered Charles, affecting to misunderstand him, 'Let the poor creatures be fed in our camp,--and when they have satiated their appetites, let them promise not to fight against me again in this war--and then, in God's name, let them go in peace.'
'As your majesty commands!' said Siquier, grating his teeth and proceeding to the execution of the unwelcome commission.
'If the lord has remitted ten thousand shekels to us,' said Charles, turning graciously to Arwed, 'surely we can remit a trifling debt to our fellow men;--can we not, my dear captain?'
'Hail to the hero who knows how to pardon as well as to conquer!' exclaimed Arwed with enthusiasm.
'No flattery!' cried Charles, stamping angrily. 'I know that it was fairly meant, but I do not like it.'
He departed. Arwed leaned against the breastwork and observed the trains of Danish prisoners who were being escorted into the camp. Then glancing proudly upon the blood-besprinkled place he had conquered--and afterwards towards the east, where Stockholm lay;--he sighed, 'had but Georgina seen me!'
Brightly shone the light of chandelier and gueridon through the plate glass windows of the royal palace on the Ritterholm, and most beautifully was its brilliancy reflected by the quiet waters of the Malar lake. The princess Ulrika Eleonore, of Hesse, gave an assembly and card patty--and the variously adorned nobility floated through the gilded rooms, soothing, caressing, deceiving, calumniating, fondling and boring each other. Behind the curtains of one of the most retired windows leaned the affectionate Georgina, gazing with anxious interest over the lake towards the Suedermalm, where in quiet obscurity lay before her the place where she had met and parted with her lover. Near her sat the princess, with the governor, Baron Taube, and the elder Gyllenstierna, at a card table.
'Is there any news from Norway?' asked Ulrika, shuffling the cards.
'From Armfelt's corps,' answered Taube, 'we have been a long time without intelligence,--but, as a friend writes me, the king has taken an important battery before Frederickshall.'
'It is well that some one yet holds correspondence in Sweden, said Ulrika with bitterness, hastily dealing the cards. 'My husband is not permitted to write openly upon the affairs of the campaign, and of the communications of my brother nobody in the capital is permitted to have a glimpse;--and least of all myself, who have the misfortune to be a woman.'
'Was our loss great?' asked old Gyllenstierna, assorting his cards.
'They speak of seven hundred,' answered the governor: 'and the loss would have been still greater and perhaps wholly in vain, had not the king himself and a young volunteer placed themselves at the head of the faltering troops and led them on to victory.'
A delightful anticipation thrilled the bosom of the listening Georgina. And in the self-forgetfulness of love, she was even upon the point of stepping forward and asking the narrator the unbecoming question of the name of the volunteer, when the father of her beloved spared her the pain of witnessing the courtier's contemptuous smile, by himself putting the question.
'My informant named him Gyllenstierna,' answered Taube: 'but as your excellency's son has gone to Armfelt's camp, I suppose I must have misunderstood him.'
'Who knows!' murmured the old count, calling to mind the last unavailing request of his son; and in pondering upon all the possibilities of the case he lost his game.
'Were it not for that,' proceeded Taube, 'I should have much pleasure in congratulating your excellency. The king advanced the brave volunteer to the grade of captain of the guards upon the spot.'
'My hero! my Arwed!' exulted Georgina in her heart, and her white hand waved a fond kiss towards the west.
'Such transient gleams of military success give me more anxiety than pleasure,' said Ulrika. 'They decide not the main question, and serve only to increase my brother's obstinacy. His game is lost beyond remedy. Continued misfortune would finally open his eyes and induce him to take the only course by which he can save himself.'
'That would have happened long ago,' whispered Taube to her, 'did not baron Goertz, through his _fata morgana_, know how to keep up his sinking hopes.'
'Very true!' said Gyllenstierna. 'And had it not been for his experiment of debasing the coin, this campaign would have been impossible.'
'Indeed,' added Taube: 'were the old heathen gods, whom he has conjured up from the vasty deep, to bring national bankruptcy upon Sweden, what would the foreigner care?'
'I know not among men one whom I so cordially hate as this Goertz,' said Ulrica in an under tone, and her eyes gleamed so fiercely that Georgina, who from her concealment saw the look, shrunk with fear, although she did not hear the words that accompanied it.
A chamberlain in service now announced to Ulrika that baron Goertz, who had just arrived from Aland, and was passing through Stockholm on his way to Frederickshall, begged permission to wait upon her royal highness.
'It is not granted!' said Ulrika with cold disdain.
'I know not,' whispered Taube to her, 'if your highness would do well to render your displeasure palpable to this cunning man. The mortified ambition of a parvenu is revengeful, and Goertz proceeds hence directly to his majesty.'
'Am I not mistress even in my own apartment!' cried Ulrika with vehemence. 'It has come to a fine pass!' She arose from the table and laid down her cards. 'I am indisposed,' said she to the chamberlain: 'am about to withdraw to my chamber, and can see no one.'
The servant bowed and retired to deliver the ungracious message. The princess called her ladies and hurried from the saloon, which was soon filled with the timid murmurs of the courtiers. Taube took the arm of Gyllenstierna, and walked up and down the room in a low and anxious conversation with him.
'My poor father! how hast thou with thy warm, and generous heart, strayed to this cold and hostile kind!' cried Georgina, who had closely observed the last scene;--and, careless of the remarks which her disregard of etiquette might elicit, she hastened from the assembly to greet her beloved father.
The fieldmarshal Rhenskioeld sat waiting, upon the sofa in the cabinet of baron von Goertz. The latter returned from the palace, and his indignation at the offensive answer he had received, gave way to the joy of again meeting his friend.
'I thank you, my worthy friend,' said he, embracing Rhenskioeld, 'that you have complied with my request so promptly. It was _my_ duty to visit you, but my hours are all numbered. I shall be compelled to labor through the whole night, and in the morning I shall be on my way towards Frederickshall.'
'You come from Aland?' eagerly asked Rhenskioeld: 'what news from thence?'
'Thank God!' cried Goertz with clasped hands: 'I bring you peace with Russia.'
'Peace!' exclaimed Rhenskioeld, springing from his seat. 'Peace between the shrewd czar, who never fails to follow up an advantage, and our Charles, whom misfortune only renders the more inflexibly? It is impossible! Even could you really obtain tolerable conditions yet would the king never accept them.'
'The splendid conditions which I bring will certainly be ratified by him,' answered Goertz. 'Peter retains nothing of his conquests except Livonia, a part of Ingermanland and Caralia. He yields back all besides.'
'Peter give any thing back!' screamed Rhenskioeld, with astonishment.
'Russia,' proceeded Goertz, 'binds herself with us, to set upon the throne of Poland the same Stanislaus whom she formerly chased from it, and furnishes 80,000 men to enthrone the same august personage against whom she has been fighting the last ten years.'
'You must be relating to me, a fable from the thousand and one nights!' said Rhenskioeld incredulously.
'Russia,' proceeded Goertz, 'is to furnish shipping for the conveyance of 10,000 Swedes to England to sustain the Pretender. In connection with Sweden, she seizes upon Hanover. We take Bremen and Verden, re-establish the duke of Holstein, force Prussia to give up her booty, and compel the emperor to observe the treaty of Altranstadt.'
'And now are you awake?' asked the fieldmarshal with a satirical smile: 'for thus do such narrations usually terminate, when the narrator has only been dreaming.'
Goertz stopped, and gazed at his auditor. He however conquered his impetuosity, went to his writing desk, took from it a manuscript, and with the exclamation, 'read,' gave it to the fieldmarshal.
Rhenskioeld read--and as he read his eyes opened wider and wider, while in the same ratio his brow became knit with anger, and he appeared to struggle with some highly unpleasant feeling. Finally, he silently gave back the paper, rose up, and took his hat and sword.
'You appear to be convinced, now, sir fieldmarshal,' said Goertz: 'but the conviction does not seem to please you, notwithstanding you have had a great share in bringing about the peace. Had you not brought the king to better thoughts when already the whole negociation threatened to miscarry, I should never have arrived where I am to-day.'
'Yes,' answered Rhenskioeld, coldly: 'it gives me pleasure to learn that I have been the ladder upon which you have mounted to the pinnacle, and I wish you joy of it.'
He bowed very formally and departed. Goertz himself lighted him out. 'Another friend lost!' said he as he came back. 'I already perceive that this peace is too advantageous for Rhenskioeld not to envy my instrumentality in its conclusion.'
Directly, he heard a slight knock at the door, and a delicate voice asked, 'may we now come in?'
'Walk in!' cried Goertz, who well knew the little voice, with a smile of paternal pleasure, and his little daughter Magdalena, led by Georgina, skipped into the room. With impetuous, feeling, Georgina fell upon his neck, whilst Magdalena climbed upon his knees and compelled him to take her in his arms.
'Où peut-on être mieux qu'au sein de sa famille?' said the father, kissing the little Magdalena right heartily. 'My own house, I verily believe, is the only place in Sweden where I can meet with sincere affection.'
'Yes, indeed, my father,' said Georgina with a sigh. 'I daily perceive more and more clearly how little justice you have to expect in a country you are laboring to save. The audience this evening denied you is a fresh instance. The princess was not ill--she feigned illness that she might have a pretext for refusing to see you.'
'It will be indeed an evil day for me,' said Goertz, smiling, 'when my destiny shall be in the hands of Ulrika. She can never forgive me that her brother now places that confidence in me which he has always withheld from her. But how comes it that you, Georgina, with your fifteen years, evince such deep observation?'
Long did he look at her in deep meditation. 'In truth,' proceeded he, 'it appears to me that you have shot up wonderfully tall, and that which with you women they call reason has developed itself with wonderful rapidity. Right beauteous are you, also, and in your eyes I see a kindling of enthusiasm. You cannot yet by any means have learned that you have a heart?'
Georgina, who during this sharp review had kept her eyes cast down, now raised them timidly up and sought to read the expression of her father's face. The kindness and good nature which she found impressed there, gave her courage, and pressing his hand to her lips she threw herself at his feet.
'What means this?' asked he indignantly, withdrawing his hand. 'I am no tyrant such as they portray in French tragedies, nor am I fond of theatrical scenes in real life. Stand up if you wish me to listen to you.'
'Never, until you forgive me,' sobbed Georgina: 'I love!'
'So my observation did not deceive me,' said her father. 'You love? a little too early, I must confess. But stand up, and tell me at once whom you love.'
'The count Gyllenstierna,' lisped Georgina, in a scarcely audible voice.
'Poor child!' exclaimed Goertz, compassionately. 'That will be a troublesome affair to arrange.'
'That is what we have feared!' cried Georgina, wringing her hands and rising up.
'I would not at any rate bring forward any objections against the young man,' proceeded Goertz. 'But both of you have wholly overlooked the fact, that his father is one of my most decided enemies. I would rather undertake to bring about a peace between Sweden and Denmark than between him and me.
The little Magdalena then threw her small, white arms round her father's neck. 'Pray, pray,' implored she, 'give to poor Georgina her Arwed; she loves him so very much.'
'Magdalena then is your confidant?' Goertz asked Georgina good humoredly: 'she knows even the christian name of your chosen one. But children, this affair, indeed, takes me by surprise. However, for the present, at least, I shall not say no. To the _yes_, it will be necessary to gain the consent of another besides the weak father of a beloved daughter. Meanwhile, I should like to become a little acquainted with your Corydon. So bring him in, Georgina, for no doubt you hold him in ambuscade ready for the occasion.'
'You do me great injustice, dear father,' said Georgina, whose maiden sensibility was touched. 'Arwed is in the Swedish camp, before Frederickshall. He has already conquered a battery, for which the king has named him a captain in the guards.'
'That, I confess, is being far on the way to a fieldmarshalship:' said Goertz, jestingly, to conceal his surprise. 'At present I rejoice that your choice does you honor every way: what further may come, is in the hands of God. The idea is very agreeable to me, through the medium of a beloved daughter to connect myself with one of the noble houses of the country in which I hope to naturalize myself by my unceasing labors for its welfare. If the other party would only think the same! But old Nils Gyllenstierna will have many and strong objections.'
'So Arwed also thought,' said Georgina sorrowfully.
'Yes, yes,' said Goertz, looking sadly forward: 'I have now in all Sweden but one only friend, and my sole happiness is that he wears Sweden's crown.' Thus saying, he rose up and ardently embraced his daughters 'Retire to rest now, children,' said he: 'go and build your airy castles, as brightly colored and dazzling as you please. And if time destroy them, still will you have enjoyed the pleasures of hope,--and that is much in a world whose joys consist almost entirely in anticipation and remembrance. Go! I must yet watch and labor for Sweden and for you. Rewarded by this land with hatred, from your hearts I expect love and gratitude, and will therewith consider myself compensated.'
'All will yet end well, dear father,' said Georgina, consolingly. 'Since I have confessed to you my secret, and since you have received it so kindly, a heavy weight is removed from my breast. I breathe again with ease and joy, and already feel as if my aim was attained and nothing more could be wanting in this world.'
The girls retired, and Goertz closed the door after them.
The afternoon service of the first Advent Sunday had ended in the camp before Frederickshall. The warriors were dispersing, and, arm in arm with adjutant Kolbert, Arwed sauntered towards the nearest sutler's barrack, to play a game of chess. The place was wholly-unoccupied, and the hostess was standing at the door, waiting for her guests, her parti-colored holiday dress serving as a sign board. The two friends sat themselves down, with a flask of Burgundy, to the bloodless battle. The sleet was lightly drizzling upon the hard frozen ground out of doors. From the walls of the city and from high Fredericksteen the heavy artillery sent a dull sound through the storm, whilst, in the camp, the besieging laborers ceased from work to honor the consecrated day of rest. The Sabbath stillness was only interrupted now and then by a crash in the barracks and a cry from the soldiers, when one of the enemy's balls happened to take effect. But that did not interrupt the players. They had become so deeply interested in their game that they did not once perceive how the room gradually became filled with officers, many of whom placed themselves behind their chairs to overlook the game.
Suddenly, with angry impetuosity, Arwed took one of his opponent's knights with his king.
'Stop!' cried Kolbert, holding fast his officer. 'Your bishop will by that movement remain uncovered, and I shall immediately take him.'
'Take him,' said Arwed. 'Your knight is troublesome to me, and must die.'
'A mere exchange, for the sake of exchanging,--that is manifestly contrary to the etiquette of the game!'
'It was not a mere exchange,' protested Arwed. 'You had a mischievous plan. Had you led him out, I were lost. Your knight in the place where he stood was worth more than an ordinary officer, and I could no longer defend myself against him. Wherefore I exchanged to advantage, and I should always do the same under like circumstances. Even if my opponent lose no more than myself by the movement, yet I win temporary relief at least, break up his attack, and compel him to resort to new man[oe]uvres.'
'And to use the king like a subaltern officer is not civil,' grumbled Kolbert.
'My king shall not keep himself behind the cannon, like a Persian shah,' answered Arwed. 'Whenever necessity requires it, he must expose himself as well as one of his soldiers.'
'A regular Charles XIIth,' cried some one behind him, with a scornful laugh. Arwed turned suddenly round and perceived the chief engineer, Megret, a Frenchman by birth, who with a satyr-like face was leaning over the back of his chair.
'I thank you for the comparison, colonel, even though it was ironically intended,' said the youth in a decidedly cutting tone. 'Would to God that we all, not excepting even you, were able to imitate the elevated character of our noble king in good and evil fortune; what accomplished men should we then be!'
Megret bit his lips and retired to another table, where he got up a company to play pharo.
'This is my first campaign,' proceeded Arwed with enthusiasm: 'and I have seen the king in battle only twice in my life, but that has furnished sufficient proof of his worth as a brave warrior and skilful commander. He is always great, but when he has his sword in his hand he is more than man--almost a demi-god--and one feels tempted to worship him.'
'Not so, young man,' answered a hollow voice. 'That was a very improper speech.'
Arwed recognised the voice as one he had heard before. Raising his eyes, he saw behind Kolbert's chair a meagre man about thirty years of age, in the dress of a civilian. His close-bodied coat, with broad turned-up sleeves, his long waistcoat and his small clothes, all of one colour, ash-gray velvet, together with his dark colored wig, gave him an uncommonly strange and solemn appearance, which his fixed and expressive eye rendered still more disagreeable.
Indignant at the reproof conveyed by the words of the stranger, Arwed abruptly and harshly asked the gray form, 'what do you mean by that, sir?'
'I mean,' answered the gray coat, 'that it always makes my flesh crawl to hear a true hero so excessively praised. His renown cannot be increased thereby, and the old _Fatum_ becomes easily jealous of such idolatry and oftentimes wreaks its vengeance upon the idol. Think of the anticipations of the great Gustavus Adolphus, to whom Germany did slavish homage in the altitude of his fortunes, and recollect his sad fate.'
'I do not like these nursery tales,' said Arwed angrily; 'and superstition, when it makes lofty pretensions, is highly offensive to me.'
'You cannot know the man to whom you speak,' said captain count Posse, stepping forward to appease Arwed. 'That we are here so near to Frederickshall, and that you have here acquired your first laurels, you may thank him alone. Through his deep science was general Duecker enabled to construct the wooden pier between the bays of Stevemstadt and Idefiall, over which our ships were transported upon ingenious machines from one navigable water to the other.'
'Is it possible! Swedenborg?' quickly exclaimed the softened Arwed with joyful surprise, offering the hand of peace to the gray-coat. 'Swedenborg! Swebenborg!' the murmur ran through the company, and the officers pressed around to catch a glance at the wonderful man.
'Swedenborg!' cried Megret, laughingly, from the other table, 'do you find yourself here again? What news do you bring with you? How stand affairs in the celestial and subterranean regions?'
'The angels axe weeping and the devils laughing!' answered Swedenborg with awful earnestness.
'And what say your spirits thereto?' sneeringly added the Frenchman.
'They are silent in the presence of impure souls,' resumed the prophet in a tone of thunder, which closed the lips of the scorner.
'Is captain Gyllenstierna here?' cried adjutant general Siquier, putting his head in at the door.
'He is here,' answered Arwed, rising from his seat.
'In an hour the king will expect you at his quarters,' said Siquier, stepping to the pharo table.
'Most certainly, he wishes to say a friendly word in relation to your conduct in the late action,' observed count Posse. 'Your enemies, even, must acknowledge that you have deserved it.'
'Thank you, captain, for the acknowledgment that I did my duty,' said Arwed modestly. 'Yet there were many others who did as much, if not more, in that action.'
'Whoso abaseth himself shall be exalted,' said Swedenborg, with benevolent kindness, laying his hand upon Arwed's shoulder.
'You are come opportunely, Siquier,' said Megret derisively. 'You have long been desirous of having your horoscope cast. There stands a professor of the high art, the great Swedenborg. Give him a good word.'
'It would occupy too much of my time,' answered Siquier. 'It takes long, I have heard, to make the calculations, and I must shortly return to the prince. But Swedenborg must also be an experienced chiromancer, and can foretell my good fortune from my hand.'
With malicious levity, he held out his hand to the insulted man. But the latter threw it forcibly back, exclaiming, 'your hand smells of blood. I have nothing to do with you!'
The scoffer stood a long time, as if suddenly struck by a thunderbolt, staring with amazement at the prophet. Soon collecting himself, however, he strode out of the room.
'What was that?' asked count Posse, looking inquiringly at Megret. The latter, visibly disturbed, shuffled the cards anew, and at length said with a forced smile, 'one fool makes many others.'
'That was too much in earnest for folly,' thought Posse.
'If it be agreeable to you,' said Arwed in ill humor to Kolbert, 'we will leave our game unfinished. I have no longer the ability to play. My head has become unusually disturbed by the strange conversation to which I have been compelled to listen.'
Kolbert, acquiescing, threw the chessmen in a heap. Arwed stepped to the pharo table and seized some cards which were quickly thrown to him.
'Take the king,' said Swedenborg to him: 'he is the banker's enemy.'
Megret was evidently startled, and with a Vehemence vastly disproportionate to the occasion, he asked Swedenborg, 'what do you mean? Do you intend to insult me?'
'He who is evil has evil thoughts,' answered Swedenborg quietly. 'I gave to my young friend good advice, founded upon my calculations of the game.'
'I prefer to advise myself,' said Arwed,--impatient of the obtrusiveness of the stranger,--retaining the old cards which uninterruptedly fell from the banker.
'Make the experiment with the king once, to gratify me,' begged Kolbert in an under tone, 'if only from curiosity. If you lose we shall then be enabled to ridicule your adviser.'
'Not willingly,' said Arwed. Finally, however, he set the card which had been recommended.--It won.
'His majesty bears himself bravely,' said Kolbert, laughing; 'the banker can obtain no advantage over him.'
Megret angrily threw to Arwed his winnings, at the same time fixing his rolling eyes upon the prophet. A passionate remark appeared to hover upon his tongue, but he suppressed it and the playing proceeded.
'How stands it now with our expedition against Drontheim?' asked Kolbert at the close of the game. 'I am surprised that we have had no well-founded intelligence from thence for so long a time.'
'According to my calculations,' said Posse, 'Armfelt must have already entered Drontheim. Have you no news from thence, Herr Swedenborg? What is our army about?'
'They are plundering the copper mines of Roeraas,' answered Swedenborg coolly.
'That would not be very agreeable to me!' said Posse jestingly, 'The position is somewhat distant from the capital, and would give the appearance of a retreat. This time, however, I firmly believe in a glorious victory for our arms. Do you not, also?'
'Excuse my answering,' said Swedenborg sorrowfully. 'The powerful elements hate mankind, and they are the stronger!'
The officers looked thoughtfully at each other, and a profound stillness pervaded the assembly.
'Let the Finlanders protect their own skins,' said Kolbert, finally breaking the mournful silence. 'We will stick to Frederickshall, which we have already in our hands. The golden lion battery has been won after a brilliant engagement. When once the trenches are pushed a little further, then with a resolute escalade, we shall be there.'
'For God's sake, my dear friend!' said Swedenborg, anxiously, 'rely not so confidently upon the uncertain fortune of war! Bound to the wild steed of accident, the goddess of fortune ranges through the world--and when she stops and looks back upon her bloody and smoking path, she finds that she has only described a hopeless circle. She stands upon the point whence she started, and all the life and happiness, which she has trampled down in her furious course, is offered up in vain.'
'You speak so learnedly that I cannot wholly understand you,' laughingly observed Kolbert; 'but I gather from your conversation, that you lack the true soldier's faith. You have done well, therefore, in consecrating yourself to the pen. The sword would make you too deeply anxious. We, on the contrary, when our king leads us forth, would cheerfully grapple with the devil himself in his own dominions, and sing over him the _te deum prænumerando_.'
'And who can guarantee, proud man,' asked Swedenborg with a piercing glance, 'that your king will see the breaking of another morning, to lead you on to strife and victory?'
He speedily withdrew. An indignant murmur arose among the officers; 'It is almost too bad,' said count Posse.
'Yes, indeed!' grumbled Megret. 'And the worst of it is, that they should permit such fools to run about freely in the camp, exciting and perplexing weak minds.'
'Swedenborg certainly is not a fool,' said Posse; 'but a warning example of the disorder which fanciful ideas may create in a clear and ripe understanding.'
'Besides, he is never once original,' said Kolbert. 'The prophecy of the king's approaching death has been circulating through the camp for several days.'
'Original or copy,' said Megret, spitefully, 'one should not publish his fanciful ideas on every occasion. And whatever of sound understanding he may have, according to the count's opinion, might be allowed by all parties to circulate freely, and no harm done.'
At this moment Siquier re-entered with evident agitation, and whispered to Megret, 'the king visits the trenches this evening.'
'Diable!' cried Megret, snapping his fingers. 'Cannot you dissuade him from it?'
'Dissuade him!' said Siquier. 'Dost thou not know the king? Make your preparations.'
'To-morrow evening I shall have the honor to give the gentlemen their revenge,' said Megret courteously, closing his box. 'I must now repair to the trenches, Come, Siquier, our way lies in the same direction for some distance, and I have yet much to say to you.'
The two Frenchmen went, forth together, arm in arm. Arwed followed them, out, and saw that they were engaged in very earnest conversation and struck their hands together with much vehemence. The circumstance surprised him, he knew not wherefore, and he made an effort to catch something of their conversation, which was carried on in rather a loud voice. The tones came distinctly to his ear in the stillness of the evening, but he could not understand a word of it, and soon convinced himself that they were conversing in a language whose barbarous sounds were unknown to him. 'What can all this mean?' he asked himself, looking dubiously after the two officers until they disappeared from his eyes into the trenches.
'The hour has elapsed,' suddenly observed some one near him. 'You may as well go now to the king, sir captain.'
Arwed peered about him through the evening dusk, and thought he perceived near him the tall, meagre form of Swedenborg.
'How came you here, sir, taking so active a part in my affairs?' asked he morosely.
'I have perceived in you a strong mind and a pure heart,' answered Swedenborg: 'and for that reason I consider you as one of those chosen vessels of the Lord, of whom he has need in these wicked times. Therefore I conjure you to repair instantly to the king and stir not from his side until this night is past. I am convinced that there is danger of most fearful doings, as I have recently observed appalling signs in the heavens.'
'Spare me your astrological dreamings,' answered Arwed impatiently. 'So long as God leaves me in possession of my senses, I can never give credence to them.'
'Do you always judge so hastily and uncharitably, my young warrior?' asked Swedenborg, mildly reproaching him: 'and do you absolutely despise and reject every thing that your weak understanding cannot comprehend? Know you the central power of nature, that point in infinite space whence issue the streams of power in an eternal spiral motion, bringing forth the forms of life and activity in endless succession? And while you remain ignorant of all these things, how can you presume to reject calculations founded upon this eternal basis?'
'I cannot argue with you,' answered Arwed, 'while I do not understand you:--and, in the mean time, I must be permitted to consider as perfect nonsense what you have been serving up to me as the highest wisdom.'
'Hold me and my doctrines in what light you please,' said Swedenborg, 'so you but fulfill my request. Lose not sight of the king, during this night. The powers of hell are busy.'
'What can threaten the hero from which I may be able to defend him?' asked Arwed.
'He who eats my bread tramples me under foot,' chanted Swedenborg, with a deep hollow voice. 'Thus it happened to Gustavus, by the fourth rider who left the camp with him. Do you know the tale from the faithful Hastenfeld, of his king's assassination?'
'What mean you by that?' asked Arwed earnestly.--But the prophet had disappeared.
Arwed arrived at the king's quarters.--Upon giving his name, the ordnance officer on duty showed him into the royal chamber, without further annunciation. With a prayer book in his lap, and a miniature in his hand which he was attentively viewing, Charles sat by the chimney, in which some sheets of paper were burning. A heap of glowing ashes showed that a large quantity of paper had been previously destroyed in the same manner.--Arwed approached the king, who, sitting with his back towards him and absorbed in the contemplation of the miniature, was not aware of his presence. Arwed saw and recognized the picture. It was the portrait of Gustavus Adolphus. Then suddenly Swedenborg's prophecy came into his mind, and a secret apprehension respecting the hero, drew from him a deep sigh.
The king looked around. 'Aha, captain Gyllenstierna!' said he, rising up and carefully putting aside the prayer book and portrait. 'You showed much bravery against the enemy in yesterday's action. You are too young for the rank of major, and I do not like to give stars and orders. Have you any favor to ask?'
'This commendation from my king is the greatest favor that could be conferred upon me,' answered Arwed. 'If your majesty will but continue as kindly disposed towards me, I shall be more than rewarded.'
'No!' said the king vehemently, 'I will not remain your debtor. God may call me to himself to-day or to-morrow, and then must my earthly accounts be balanced. Ask some favor of me. I am well disposed towards you.'
'Now or never!' said Arwed to himself, and turning to the king: 'I love the daughter of your majesty's minister, baron von Goertz: the animosity of our respective fathers opposes an insurmountable obstacle to our union: vouchsafe, your majesty, to intercede for us.'
'You are a simpleton!' replied the king scornfully, while with long and rapid strides he paced up and down the chamber. 'Silly request!' exclaimed he after a while, smiling in his peculiar manner: 'and I think it unjust, since you know my opinion of matrimony.' After which, he walked two or three times up and down the room, and then stopping directly in front of Arwed, asked him, 'you are so good a soldier, Gyllenstierna, how have you been able to attach yourself to a woman?'
'Baroness von Goertz,' answered Arwed, 'is so lovely that your majesty would find it natural enough were you once to see her.'
'That may you very naturally believe,' answered the king smilingly. After a pause, shaking his head, he observed, 'I only wish to know what delight men can find in what is called love?'
'It is indeed the greatest happiness in life, your majesty,' answered Arwed with enthusiasm.
'It would not be well for me that it should be so, for then should I have missed the greatest good,' said the king. 'Yet will a place in history always remain to me, and fame with posterity!' He walked to the chimney, and, collecting the coals together with his foot, observed, 'I will cause her father to be written to. I will speak to Goertz myself. I expect him about this time from Aland.'
'Your majesty!'--stammered the surprised and delighted youth.
'It is very well!' said the king, interrupting him, and at that moment Siquier entered.
'Your majesty is now about to visit the trenches,' said Arwed, recollecting Swedenborg's request. 'May I be allowed to accompany you? I might, perhaps, learn something practically of the duties appertaining to a siege.'
The king kindly nodded assent. Siquier made a disagreeable face, and they started.
At the entrance of the trenches they were received by count Schwerin, who commanded there, captain Posse and adjutant Kolbert; and not without some embarrassment, came colonel Megret to meet them. The king now sent away Posse and Kolbert upon some secret errand, and proceeded with Megret and Siquier into the trench. Arwed followed at some distance. It was a bitter cold, moonless night, but the stars shone clear. The Danes fired incessantly from Frederickshall, and their balls often struck within the walls of the trench; but the king, paying no attention to it, proceeded quietly forward with his companions. They now came to a place where the passage in the trench made an angle with the parallel, and from beyond which the pickaxes and shovels of the sappers could be heard.
There the king suddenly stopped and leaned upon his long sword. 'No farther advanced, Megret?' asked he, with evident displeasure.
'The soil is frozen hard, your majesty!' apologized the latter, somewhat perplexed. 'Were we compelled to open the trenches through rocks, it would not be much more difficult.'
'There has been time enough!' said Charles. 'I am very much dissatisfied!'
'I will pledge my head,' said Megret, 'that we have the fortress in eight days!'
'We shall see,' answered the king, kneeling upon the inner scarp; leaning his head upon the parapet with his face turned towards the enemy, he looked long and anxiously towards the sappers, who were quietly and assiduously pursuing their labors.
At this moment a confused noise was heard from the camp. 'Go and see what is the matter, Gyllenstierna,' commanded the king: 'and bring me a report.'
'Do you command it, your majesty?' replied Arwed, with a heavy heart; for at such a moment he dared not leave the king alone with the two Frenchmen.
'Hasten, captain,' whispered Siquier to him. 'The king loves not loiterers, and to-day, especially, he is not in the best humor.'
Arwed obeyed with a sigh. As he came out of the trenches all had become still again, and from count Posse, whom he met, he learned that two unruly horses had been the whole cause of the alarm. While they were yet speaking of it Swedenborg came hastily up to them. With an ice-cold hand he seized Arwed's and drew him hastily aside.
'Where have you left the king?' asked he, with much earnestness.
'At the extremity of the trench,' answered Arwed. 'Megret and Siquier are with him.'
'Oh, why have you absented yourself from your lord?' cried Swedenborg, wringing his hands. 'I begged of you so earnestly!'
'By his command;'--answered Arwed, now much alarmed.
'For God's sake return immediately to him,' supplicated Swedenborg, dragging him forward. 'God grant that we come not too late!'
They both proceeded rapidly along the trench. In the narrow passage, they were met by Siquier.
'Where is the king?' quickly asked Arwed of him.
'That is what I wished to ask of you!' returned Siquier, with an insolent yet trembling voice. 'I left him soon after you did, and in the darkness cannot find him again.'
'That is strange!' said Arwed. 'You had better go with me, and let us seek our lord where I left him in your company.'
Siquier reluctantly obeyed. They came finally to the old place, which was well known to Arwed. Already at some, distance he saw the king still in the same position, leaning upon the parapet. At the same time Megret, joining them, suddenly approached the king and bent over him.
'He is dead!' said he after a while, very quietly.
'The king dead!' shrieked Arwed, with wild amazement, and running to the nearest guard post, he immediately returned with a blazing torch. The light disclosed a horrid scene. Covered with blood, Charles's beautiful hero-like form rested upon the inner scarp of the trench. His head had sunk down upon the parapet. On the right temple was the death-wound. The left eye was sunken in; the right, strained wholly out of its orbit, stared horribly forth; and the right hand, which held the hilt of his sword with a convulsive grasp, proved that the brave spirit, even on the instant of its flight, was disposed to resist the impending death.
A long and fearful pause succeeded the discovery. 'The play is out!' finally observed Megret, breaking the general silence: 'We may now go to supper.'
Arwed looked shudderingly upon the man who could treat the sudden and awful death of his general and king with such cool insolence--and at that moment a horrible suspicion pervaded his soul.
'This sad occurrence must be concealed from the troops,' said Siquier. 'It would entirely dispirit them. I will merely inform the prince of Hesse, and he can command what further is to be done.'
He departed in haste. Megret followed him. Arwed remained with Swedenborg by the corpse, holding fast its lifeless left hand, and covering it with his kisses and tears.
'So, it is thy fate to be destroyed by assassination, thou kingly hero!' mourned the faithful Swedenborg. 'Why couldst thou not have fallen worthy of thyself, by the hand of an honorable enemy, in the open field of battle?'
'Let us not judge too rashly and uncharitably,' said Arwed, combating, in Swedenborg's, his own suspicions. 'That the king was hit by one of the balls from the batteries of the enemy, is more probable than the monstrous crime which you seem to conjecture.'
'The king's face was turned toward the enemy,' said Swedenborg, with grave significancy: 'and the ball hit him on the right side. The calibre, to judge from the size of the wound, was too small for a heavy gun, and no musket would reach this place from the walls of Frederickshall.'
'Impossible!' cried Arwed. 'Who could have projected such a crime--who could have committed it?'
'He who eats my bread tramples me under foot,--was done to Gustavus by the fourth man who rode with him out of the camp:'--said Swedenborg in a chanting tone, as if in answer to both questions. The trench had now become illuminated with torches and filled with warriors. Through the hastening crowd of officers pressed the prince of Hesse.
'It is too true!' stammered he, palsied by the horrid spectacle, and trembling in every limb. 'Who was present when my deceased brother-in-law was struck?' asked he at length with a trembling voice.
'God only can answer that question, your highness,' said Swedenborg. 'God, who with his heavenly, thousand-starred eyes has seen what has happened here. We found the royal corpse alone.'
'Alone,' cried the prince, 'alone has ended the life of the hero whose warlike deeds have filled all Europe with fear and admiration! What is human greatness?'
Megret and Siquier now returned with four grenadiers of the guards, who with sad, lingering steps, brought forward a litter.
'Let the body be brought to head-quarters, Siquier,' commanded the prince: 'and keep the king's death secret until we have taken such measures as the occasion may require. The generals will in the mean time assemble at my quarters in council of war. Let sentinels be placed on every avenue towards Sweden, and let no one venture to leave the camp until further orders.'
'And general Duecker?'--asked Siquier, artfully, as if he wished to remind the prince of something of importance.
'He shall immediately depart with his corps,' answered the prince, after a moment's reflection, 'and traverse the passes toward Denmark. Bear to him the order,' Yet one look of horror cast he upon the dead form of his brother-in-law, and then hastily departed.
With pert insolence Siquier advanced to the corpse, threw over it a soldier's gray cloak, placed his own hat upon the insensible head, and made a sign to the grenadiers. The latter advanced weeping, and placing the dead body in the litter, closed it.
'If you are asked on the way whom you bear,' said Siquier, as they raised the litter, 'answer captain Carlberg.'
The mournful train moved forward. Siquier picked up the bloody hat of the king, which lay upon the ground, and followed. With sad murmurs the officers separated. Swedenborg also had disappeared. Arwed remained standing alone, still mechanically holding the torch on high, staring unconsciously upon the bloody ground from which its light was reflected. At length recollecting himself, he angrily thrust the torch in the snow upon the parapet until its sparkling and crackling flame was extinguished. 'Die! thou paltry flame!' exclaimed he, with uncontrollable grief: 'die! This night Sweden's light is extinguished and never, never more will my poor country see the dawn of happiness.'
As Arwed emerged from the trenches he was met by adjutant Kolbert. 'It is well that I have found you,' said he eagerly: 'I have been some time seeking you. Come directly with me.'
'Where?' asked Arwed with moody apathy.
'To general Duecker's,' quickly answered Kolbert.
'There are collected all those who in their hearts were truly devoted to our fallen hero. The meeting relates to matters of the highest consequence, which must be discussed in all haste. It is asked, who now shall wear the crown in our good Sweden?'
'Has the army to decide that question?' asked Arwed earnestly.
'Certainly!' said Kolbert, 'and that according to the anciently consecrated right of the sword, as formerly exercised by the prætorians of Rome. Only come with me. There you will not only hear the _how_, but the _wherefore_, about which, pedantlike, you always first ask.'
He drew Arwed with him towards general Duecker's quarters. They were already crowded with generals and officers, who were engaged in low and eager conversation. Suddenly they separated, forming a large circle, into the middle of which stepped the worthy old Duecker.
'The king is dead!' said he with an agitated voice. 'In the midst of your affliction for this great loss, I waive until a more suitable time the important question,--How has the hero fallen? Our present duty is, faithfully to guard the vacant throne as becomes faithful vassals and warriors, and to take care that the crown be set upon a worthy head. You know, comrades, that there are two hands which will be stretched out for it, and in the opinion of many it is yet doubtful whether the nephew or the sister of Charles has the best right. I am indeed entirely convinced, that the son of the elder sister should take precedence of the younger. But the heroes of the quill may hereafter fight out these subtleties, if it should become necessary. At present I abide simply by the will of my king, who has so often been our guiding star in battle, as the pole star of heaven guides the mariner through opposing storms. Charles had a father's love for his nephew, and was reverenced with filial tenderness by him in return. He took him with himself to the field, that he might under his own eyes train him to become his worthy successor. For his sister he always had an aversion, and the thought of female government was as hateful to him, as, since the days of the apostate Christina, it must be to every true Swede. Wherefore I believe we fulfill the unwritten testament of the great departed in raising the duke of Holstein to Sweden's throne. He already has so far deserved it, that his connection with this realm has cost him his possessions.
'But whatever be done must be done quickly--for the husband of the other pretender to the crown is in the camp, and already very active in availing himself of his field-marshalship to aid her pretensions. I, in whom he least confides, have already been ordered to depart with my corps, and I dare not venture to disobey, unless protected by a counter order from the king. I therefore propose that a deputation from ourselves repair immediately to the duke, and beg of him to show himself to the troops. We will have the regiments under arms, proclaim him king in front of them, and for the rest depend upon our good swords. Is that your will, my friends?'
'Long live our king Charles XIIIth!' cried the assembled warriors with one voice, and every sword leaped from its scabbard. While most of the officers distributed themselves through the soldiers' barracks, to prepare them for the great movement, Duecker chose, from among those who remained, the ambassadors who should accompany him to the duke. Arwed found himself one of the number, and the delegates immediately repaired to the duke's quarters. The sentinels refused them entrance. The discussion which this occasioned brought out the valet-de-chambre, Koepstorf, the favorite and confidant of the young prince.
'It is impossible, your excellency, to announce you now,' said he to Duecker. 'His grace is so shaken by the intelligence of the king's death that he has yielded himself up entirely to his sad feelings, and cannot turn his attention to anything else. The gentlemen must come again to-morrow morning.'
'My God!' cried Duecker, 'you desire a delay of many hours, when Sweden's fate, perhaps, hangs upon as many moments. In consequence of the king's death, the duke is lawful heir to the crown. We have opened the way to the throne for him. The army is upon his side. He has only to make his appearance and harangue the troops, and they will call him to the royal station, in the possession of which he will be protected by his good right. But if he delay, his aunt will gain possession; and, once upon the throne, she will thence obtain the power to maintain herself there. I conjure you, friend, to present all this to your lord, and beseech him to hear the representations of his true supporters, and not neglect the favorable moment which for him, perhaps, may never occur again.'
'I will do what I can,' answered Koepstorf, shrugging his shoulders and going in.
There stood the well disposed warriors, patiently waiting to ascertain if the young prince would stoop to take the crown which they were desirous of laying at his feet. The valet-de-chambre was gone a long time. The cold morning wind blew keenly from the direction of Sweden, and they wrapped themselves close in their mantles. At length they heard the trampling of horses near them, and a troop of some ten horsemen trotted hastily by them and took the way towards Stroemstadt.
'Do you know what that means?' asked Kolfaert of the general. 'It is colonel Baumgardt, who, by the command of the fieldmarshal, goes to meet and arrest the baron von Goertz.'
'Right!' cried Duecker with bitterness. 'A crime more or less, is of no consequence, when a crown is to be usurped, and it is highly politic to rob the prince of his best supporters. He is, however, little troubled by all this, as it seems, and will perhaps patiently wait until he is himself arrested in his own quarters.'
The valet-de-chambre now again came out. 'My exertions have not been successful,' said he despondingly. 'I have placed the whole subject before the prince, but have not obtained a favorable hearing. He merely allows me to say to your excellency that he cannot speak with any person now.'
Great dissatisfaction was expressed by the whole company, and Duecker angrily stamped his foot. 'It is a pity we have taken so much pains and incurred so much danger,' said he. 'Nothing indeed now remains for us but obedience, as I have no desire to set my gray head upon a cast for an ungrateful man. Bear to my regiments the order for their departure,' said he to his adjutant, and, cursing and swearing by the way, he returned to his quarters.
Oppressed with concern for the father of his beloved, Arwed followed the general. 'Grant me one request,' said he urgently as they entered the quarters of the latter. 'There will now be very little to do here in the way of fighting, and my presence is no longer necessary. Procure me a furlough to ride back to Stockholm.'
'To Stockholm?' asked Duecker, startled. 'Now, directly? For what purpose, captain? Do you wish to become one of the wheels in the machinery of politics which are now destructively working in opposition to each other? You appear to me to be much too honest-hearted for that.'
'From Charles's best friend I will conceal nothing,' said Arwed resolutely. 'According to my calculation Goertz must now either be in Stockholm or will soon arrive there. I would warn that true servant of our late king, that he may be able to escape from the hands of his revengeful enemies.'
'For which thought may heaven reward you!' cried Duecker, 'but I fear the issue. In the first place, the prince of Hesse is your chief, and it will be difficult to procure from him the desired permission, and secondly, you will hardly be able to outstrip the speed of the officers already under way for the arrest of Goertz.'
'Obtain me but the permission, general,' persisted Arwed: 'the rest shall be my care. I ride a Norman of unequalled speed and bottom.'
'I will make the effort,' said Duecker; 'but hardly hope for success. Since Charles's death I am only the _late_ Duecker, and my influence has become a shadow.'
He had proceeded as far as the door when he was met by colonel Brenner. 'I come to take leave of you, my old friend,' said the latter, heartily embracing the general. 'I go this moment with post-horses to the capital.'
'Every body seems to wish to go to Stockholm tonight,' said Duecker. 'What hast thou to ask there?'
'His royal highness the prince of Hesse, as he already suffers himself to be called,' answered Brenner ironically, 'has already sent forward his beloved and trusty Siquier with the mournful news. It might afterwards, however, have occurred to him that it would not seem exactly proper to leave the communication of so important an event to the equivocal Frenchman. Wherefore must an honorable Swede follow him as the messenger of death; and as I might perhaps be troublesome here, I am in mercy selected for that duty.'
'Will you do me a pleasure and take the captain with you?' said Duecker. 'He has a sudden and urgent call to Stockholm, and may not in any other way be able to obtain leave of absence.'
'The prince has allowed me to choose my companion,' answered Brenner; 'and what would I not do to pleasure you? We set off directly, captain. Farewell till happier times, my Duecker!'
He hastened forth. Arwed gratefully pressed the general's hand, who in return drew him to his heart. 'God protect you and bless your undertaking!' said the latter with emotion--and Arwed rushed forth in the cold, gray dawn of the awakening mom.
Courtiers and lacqueys were running about and jostling each other in confusion and alarm, when colonel Brenner with Arwed mounted the broad stone steps of the royal palace upon the Ritterholm. With great trouble they found a valet-de-chambre, who announced them to the princess Ulrika. As they entered the ante-chamber, the folding doors of the princess' room opened, and Siquier, with shy glances, brushed past them. At a motion of the valet they entered the audience room. Ulrika was standing by a pier-table, upon which lay the king's perforated and bloody hat, holding, with a decent appearance of grief, a handkerchief before her dry eyes.
'I have the melancholy honor,' said Brenner, drawing his despatches from his bosom, 'to present to your royal highness these letters from your princely husband.'
'Siquier has already informed me of the sad occurrence,' answered Ulrika, taking the despatch with great coolness: 'nevertheless I thank you for the zeal with which you have executed the commission of the hereditary prince.'
'This officer,' continued Brenner, pointing to Arwed, 'was one of the first who found the hero's corpse. He can inform your royal highness of all the circumstances accompanying this so wholly unexpected death.'
'Wherefore the details?' cried Ulrika, 'which serve no purpose but to lacerate my heart. If my maternal love for this land forces upon me the conviction that this death is fortunate for Sweden, yet will the ties of blood claim their holy rights--and although I could never boast of my royal brother's love, yet my heart feels his loss with a sorrow which needs no additional poignancy.'
At this moment the chief governor, baron Taube, entered the room with a face in which alarm, feigned sorrow, and ill-concealed joy, struggled for mastery.
'You know it already, governor?' cried Ulrika, advancing hastily to meet him.
He silently bowed assent.
'I am confident that in you I have a truly devoted friend,' said she to him with a gracious stateliness, extending her hand for him to kiss.
'My life for your royal highness!' cried Taube with graceful enthusiasm, tenderly kissing the proffered hand.
'What should be done first, think you?' she asked him confidentially.
'I advise that the senate should be assembled this evening,' answered Taube. 'To be sure its numbers are not complete. Three of its members are with the army as generals, but in their stead the royal counsellors are devoted to your royal highness with their lives and fortunes.'
'If ever I have a voice in these lands,' said Ulrika, warmly, 'these good gentlemen shall not much longer wear these titles. I have never approved of my father's course in making them servants of his own will, instead of counsellors of the empire.'
'The senate know the gracious intuitions of your royal highness,' answered Taube; 'and I am certain of the happy consequences. If any thing could make me fear, it would be the cabals which baron Goertz will not fail to set on foot for the young duke.'
'Goertz is taken care of!' cried Ulzika, with a look of hate. 'While we are now speaking here, all power to do further mischief is, as I hope, taken from him. Let only his house be promptly occupied and his papers and property secured.'
'Then there are his Holstein accomplices,' added Taube: 'Dernath, Ecklef, Paulsen, Sallern----'
'They must all be arrested this night,' decided Ulrika; 'all at the same hour, so that no one may be warned by the fate of the others. See to it, dear governor.'
'I will have the whole garrison under arms,' answered Taube, bowing. 'This business must be carried through with rapidity and decision, as every thing depends upon the proper employment of the present moment.'
'And tell me, dear baron,' asked Ulrika, grasping both of his hands with the most winning kindness, 'the senate will not compel me to buy the crown at too high a price, will they?'
'In relation to that,' answered Taube, with a warning glance towards the officers, who in the heat of the conversation had been overlooked until now; 'in relation to that, I will lay my humble opinions before your royal highness at a more private audience.'
Somewhat alarmed, Ulrika turned towards Brenner, and her glance fell directly upon Arwed's large blue eyes, sparkling with displeasure, which were fixed steadily upon her. She started back, and, with difficulty summoning composure, asked, 'who is that moody young man?'
'My companion, the captain count Gyllenstierna,' answered Brenner for his silent friend. 'A brave soldier. He was the first upon the walls of the Golden Lion, and won the particular approbation of our late blessed king.'
'Gyllenstierna?' asked Taube, eagerly. 'He is then the son of the senator, and was sent by his father to Armfelt's army.'
'The worthy old man was always one of our truest friends,' said Ulrika, interrupting him, and bowing graciously to Arwed. And it will be most agreeable to us to learn that the son follows in the father's footsteps. We shall remember to bestow upon him some peculiar mark of our favor.'
She held out her hand for him to kiss. But Arwed, highly incensed at all he had heard, would not be compelled to show this mark of reverence to a woman whom he hated. He stood stiff and motionless, and the hand of the queen remained in expectancy, unclasped and unkissed, suspended in the air.
Shocked at the gross impropriety, the chief governor hemmed emphatically. Colonel Brenner anxiously endeavored to push Arwed forward, but he would not move a limb, and the hand of the princess finally sank down by her side.
'The young man is certainly not well!' said Ulrika, with much bitterness.
'After his long and forced journey it would not be strange,' said Brenner, apologetically. 'He has need of rest. Is it the pleasure of your royal highness that we now retire?'
'You can receive your despatches early in the morning from the governor,' answered Ulrika with displeasure; 'and for your companion, may he in time learn the courtesy due from every gentleman to a lady, even though she were not the sister of his king.'
'Most assuredly,' said Brenner to Arwed, as soon as they had left the palace behind them, 'you have a very peculiar talent for making your way at court. You ought, at the least, to be made a master of ceremonies. I have taken you with me to an audience once, but I would never do it again.'
'Had you left me behind you, as I earnestly begged of you, colonel,' answered Arwed, 'you would have spared me the pain of witnessing the thoroughly disgusting scene, and yourself the mortification of my awkwardness.'
'You do not understand the matter,' blustered Brenner. 'It was proper for me to present my companion; and in doing so I was actuated by the best intentions towards you. If our own hearts bled at the sad news we brought, yet I knew well that it would be right welcome here; and the face that brings good news may expect to win the good will of those in authority. And every thing was going on so well, and the warm sun of favor was beginning to shine clear and bright upon you, when satan must come all at once into your back so that you could not bend it, into your arm that you could not stretch it out, and into your lips that you could not kiss,--and now the opportunity has passed for time and eternity!'
'Let it be past!' cried Arwed, 'I cannot outwardly honor what I inwardly despise.'
'You will soon leave the royal service then;' grumbled the colonel: 'for in that service cases of the kind may often occur.'
'Have you any further need of me, colonel?' asked Arwed, his glance impatiently turning towards the palace of Goertz.
'For to-night, no,' answered Brenner. 'But come to my quarters early in the morning. We will then make arrangements for our return, I will not trouble you to go with me to the governor's. After the captious remarks which he let fall he might have various dangerous questions to ask you--and if your hitherto passive awkwardness should become active, I might in the end have cause to repent my willingness to take you with me.'
'If I, however,' asked Arwed, seized with a sudden presentiment, 'should have occasion to set out upon a journey to-night, would you give me a furlough upon my word of honor to appear at the camp before Frederickshall in eight days?'
'Come not to me with such a strange request!' cried the colonel with vehemence. 'I have no authority nor power to grant you such a furlough.'
'But when the object is to save a good man?' asked Arwed earnestly, seizing the colonel's hand and looking anxiously in his face with his beautiful clear eyes.
The colonel gave him a piercing glance from under his gray bushy eye-brows. But the severity of his eye soon melted into a more kindly expression. 'My old friend Duecker is well disposed towards you,' said he: 'and there is no falsehood in your face. I see that you are one who will keep your word. Go upon your own terms whither you will.'
'May God reward you!' cried Arwed, hastening away.
Dark and gigantic in the evening dusk arose the proud palace of the baron von Goertz, and the unlighted windows and the perfect silence which reigned in and about it gave it the unpleasant appearance of a deserted spectre-castle. Only in one room shone a dull light which resembled the blue flame that burns in ruins over buried treasures.
'That is Georgina's light,' said Arwed to himself, agitated with the conflicting emotions of sorrow and joy. He pushed open a little side door near the great portal, and creeping softly up the deserted stairs passed through the echoing corridors towards Georgina's chamber. As he entered he saw his beloved sitting at a table and with streaming eyes reading the note in which he had warned her of her father's danger. Her right hand supported her drooping head,--her left had been taken possession of by the little Magdalena, who was endeavoring to administer friendly and childlike consolation.
'Heaven be praised!' said Arwed. 'Thou hast received my letter in time, and thy father is saved!'--
'Would to God it were so!' cried Georgina, with a sorrow so deep that it left no room in her heart for joy at again seeing her lover. 'My father departed yesterday for Frederickshall. He is accustomed to travel with rapidity, and before my courier can overtake him he will be already in the hands of his enemies.'
'That depends upon who the courier is,' said Arwed encouragingly. 'I have determined to save the father of my beloved, and to spare my country the commission of a crime. I will set forth, and should a couple of horses fall dead under me it will be a small matter. I am only held back for the moment by my concern for thee. This palace will soon be occupied, and thy father's property confiscated. What a scene will await thee if thou remainest without a protector in the desolated house!'
'Be not anxious for me,' said Georgina, ringing the bell. 'I will immediately repair, with my sister, to the count Dernath's, where we are certain of a right friendly reception.
'Dernath and all thy father's friends will be arrested this night!' cried Arwed, in deep anguish.
'I nevertheless can find some place of refuge in Stockholm,' answered Georgina; 'and thou canst with confidence devote thyself to the discharge of a duty to which thy heart impels thee.'
Meanwhile the governess of Georgina entered, clasping her hands in astonishment at finding a strange young officer in the bed-room of her pupil.
'Do not alarm yourself respecting my companion, dear governess!' cried Georgina. 'Your attention is now required by affairs of more importance. Instantly call the women and the two Holstein, lacqueys. Let some of the best of mine and Magdalena's things be packed up, and send the steward to provide a boat. We will immediately repair to Blasius Holm, to the old invalid post-captain who was, three years ago, ransomed at Ystad by my father.'
'Accompanied by this cavalier?' cried the terrified governess. 'This looks like an elopement, baroness!'
'Would to God it were!' said Georgina sorrowfully. 'But this cavalier's way lies in quite another direction. The king is dead, my father a prisoner if he be not saved by scarcely less than a miracle, and during this very night will this palace be stormed as though it were a strong hold of the Danes. Therefore hasten, for our moments are counted!'
Wringing her hands, and followed by the weeping Magdalena, the governess retired.
'Will you not also save your father's papers and valuables?' asked Arwed. 'The hands which will rummage here will be none of the purest.'
'No!' answered Georgina after some reflection. 'Let the commissioners do that for which they may be able to answer to God and their own honor. I will not venture to touch my father's property. Besides, I am too proud to take any thing with me out of Sweden which might be claimed as the property of the state. Hasten you, now, to the rescue of my beloved father. He was to proceed through Westgothland and to pass by Stroemstadt. I can give you no more precise information of his route.'
'Let me first accompany you to your asylum,' said Arwed. 'Before that, I cannot leave you in peace.'
'God knows how great a consolation your attendance upon me would be,' answered Georgina: 'but the question now is not of my consolation or your peace, dear Arwed,--but of my father's rescue. An hour's delay may be death to him. Therefore go at once, Arwed, fly, save, and there is no reward which you may not demand of me in exchange for the life of my beloved parent.'
Saying this, she threw her white arms about his neck, printed a fervent kiss upon his lips, and gently thrust him out of the door.
The wearied Arwed pushed the little gothlander, which he had purchased at the Rakalse inn instead of his overridden Norman, into a smart trot upon the high road to Stroemstadt. The rider was almost exhausted, but his determined spirit, animated by love and generosity, impelled the obedient body to renewed exertions of its diminishing powers. At length lie caught a glance of a fast rolling carriage, relieved against the border of a snow-clad forest. 'Now is the crisis!' cried he, burying his spurs so unmercifully in his horse's flanks that he flew with him in furious career over the frozen ground. After a hard ride of a quarter of an hour he overtook the carriage. In it sat baron Goertz, wrapped in a fur cloak, and so attentively reading some papers that he did not perceive the approaching horseman. 'I bless my fate,' called out the latter, as he reached the carriage, 'that I have found your excellency in good time. I bring you important intelligence.'
'Who are you, sir?' asked Goertz, disturbed in his occupation, with a tone of displeasure.
'Captain Gyllenstierna,' answered Arwed. 'I have ridden after you from Stockholm to give you warning and save you from a great misfortune.'
'Gyllenstierna!' cried Goertz with a friendly smile, leaning back that he might hear his voice above the rattling of the carriage. 'Then you bring me news from my daughter, or a message from her. You cannot well deliver it from your saddle; therefore be pleased to hitch your horse to mine and take a seat by me in the carriage.'
'I accept your invitation with thanks,' answered Arwed, and attaching his reins to the collar of a saddle-horse, he sprang into the carriage. 'Have the goodness,' said he, 'to change the direction of your journey immediately, and on the way I will tell you the cause.'
'What are you dreaming of?' asked Goertz with an angry brow.
'There comes a whole troop of dragoons to meet us,' cried the coachman, 'and they are pressing forward under whip and spur.' Arwed examined them attentively for a moment. 'My God, I have come too late!' stammered he, recognizing the gray coat of colonel Baumgardt advancing at their head.
'Are you in your right mind, young man, or rather are you not some other than the person you pretend to be?' asked Goertz yet more angrily, drawing a pistol from the pocket of the carriage.
'For God's sake!' untreated Arwed, grasping his hand, 'reserve your weapons for your enemies, who are coming to meet us. By you sits your friend, who is ready to die in your defence. Turn back instantly, perhaps we may yet avoid them.'
As Goertz sharply examined his countenance his features relaxed into a milder expression at the perusal of his honest face. 'I have no longer an ill opinion of you,' said he smilingly. 'It is my impression, however, that you desire to increase your importance with me a little by pressing upon me your protection against a pretended danger; and I can pardon something on account of your youth and the motive by which you are impelled. Another time, however, you must find some more probable pretence. That the horsemen who are approaching us are no robbers, but honest Swedish dragoons, a child may see; and, if I mistake not, that is colonel Baumgardt, whom I well know, riding at their head.'
In a moment the troops had reached the carriage.
'Good evening, your excellency!' cried Baumgardt, wheeling about his horse and raising his hat. Three other officers, who followed him, likewise wheeled about and remained, courteously greeting the baron, before and on both sides of the carriage, while the dragoons trotted past and closed up behind it.
'Good evening, colonel!' answered Goertz serenely. 'Whither so late?'
'To meet your excellency,' said the colonel politely. 'We lost our way in the driving snow, and have been riding about in a state of perplexity for two days. We bring with us important news from the camp.'
'Whatever it may be,' answered Goertz, 'I bring you from Aland yet better and more important. But it can all be more conveniently told in a warm room with a bottle of old wine. I shall stop for the night at the parsonage of Tanum, and bear with me a good bottle case. Will the gentlemen be my guests? We will pass a pleasant evening together, and in the morning I will proceed to Frederickshall under your safeguard.'
'It will be an honor to myself and officers,' said the colonel. The other officers bowed silently, and the carriage rolled rapidly onward, surrounded by its armed escort, towards the solitary parsonage which, an old dark-gray mass of stone, with tall dark fir trees rustling about it, offered no very tempting shelter even in that desert region.
The travellers alighted, and the minister entered one of the lower rooms of the house. Arwed followed him, prepared for the tragic scene which was approaching. With impetuous haste, that their victim might not escape them, the officers pressed in after him, and the last one closed the door.
'What means this?' asked Goertz, rising, as he remarked it.
The colonel then replaced his hat upon his head and drew his sword, exclaiming in the roughest military tone, 'in the name of the king, Goertz, I demand of you the surrender of your sword!'
With surprise and astonishment Goertz started back. At first, unable to speak, he looked around upon the officers who surrounded him with drawn swords and insultingly triumphant glances.
This unknightly conduct excited Arwed; his blood boiled, and forgetful of the mischief that a powerless opposition must cause, he fixed upon Goertz his eager, enquiring eyes, in which the question was plainly asked if he should draw the sword, whose hilt he firmly grasped, for the deliverance of his friend. But, as with dignified earnestness the minister motioned him to desist from his intention, he withdrew his hand, and leaned against a window in silent despair at witnessing the perpetration of a wrong which he had not power to prevent.
'In the name of the king?' asked Goertz, after a long pause, unbuckling his sword; 'that word is a falsehood! From Charles I might expect any thing rather than the offering up of his truest friend. This destiny is not decreed by him! Nevertheless I see that I must yield to necessity. Take my sword! I have long expected something of the kind. It is the reward for all the service I have rendered to the crown of Sweden!'
'The right reward yet awaits you at Stockholm!' said colonel Baumgardt with bitterness. Then turned he to Arwed and roughly asked him, 'how came you here, captain Gyllenstierna!'
'From Stockholm,' answered the latter: 'whither I accompanied colonel Brenner as a courier, and am upon my return to the camp.'
'And you have deserted your superior officer?' asked Baumgardt in reply: 'and we find you in the carriage with Goertz. That is suspicious!'
'It was but a moment before you met us,' hastily interposed Goertz, 'that the captain first overtook me, bringing me a message from my daughter. His horse now stands without, tied to mine.'
Baumgardt walked to the window, as if to ascertain the truth of the assertion.
'If you, however, yet think the affair suspicious, colonel,' cried Arwed, vehemently, 'I propose to you to take me as a prisoner, together with the minister, to Stockholm. Then will you at least be secured against the imputation of having acted with too great mildness.'
'That would be perhaps very agreeable to you,' answered Baumgardt, scornfully. 'But I am not accustomed to receive directions from subalterns, and prudence requires that I should pursue a course directly opposite to that proposed by a suspected person. It is desirable rather, to ensure your safe return to the camp. Myself, with lieutenant colonel Bioernskioeld will accompany you there. Adjutant general Rosenhahn and lieutenant Loewen with their followers will proceed to Stockholm with the prisoner, and thus each one of us will be in his right place.'
Arwed gnashed his teeth at this injurious treatment, but the iron chain of subordination held the young lion fast bound, and he remained silent.
'Forward, Herr von Goertz,' cried the adjutant general, pointing towards the door.
'Farewell, my son!' cried Goertz, embracing Arwed affectionately. And, while embracing, whispered to him, 'I now understand your true intentions and your real friendship for me. Be certain that you shall be satisfied with my gratitude if my enemies leave me the power of proving it.'
He went forth and stepped into his carriage, upon the box of which one of the dragoons was seated, and which was now employed to convey its former owner to a dungeon, Rosenhahn seated himself by the minister's side. The other officers, together with Arwed, threw themselves upon their horses,--Lieutenant Loewen made a sign to his dragoons, who surrounded the carriage with their swords drawn, and the prisoner, with his escort, galloped quickly towards the south, whilst Arwed, with his unwelcome companions, rode sadly towards the north.
Deserted and empty stood the camp before Frederickshall, as Arwed and the two other officers rode into it. Baggage-men and other camp followers swarmed about the barracks, searching for whatever their late inhabitants might have left behind them worth the finding. The flag of Denmark waved from the Golden Lion, and some companies in the Danish hunting dress were leveling the Swedish embankments and closing up the trenches which it had cost so much time and trouble to open.
'What is that?' cried Arwed with surprise and displeasure. 'Has our army been beaten, that they have raised the siege whose successful termination was so near?'
'I had expected it,' answered lieutenant Bioernskioeld with a lowering countenance: 'but not so soon. The army has marched back to Sweden.'
'How have the times changed!' said Arwed sorrowfully. 'Ninety years ago, the dead Gustavus Adolphus inspired his army and urged it to continual contests and glorious victories,--and now it seems that old Swedish courage and the heroic spirit of her king have flown together, and that the laurels gained under his guidance are yielded in shameful flight.'
'I hope, captain,' said Baumgardt, scornfully, 'that you do not presume to deride the commands of the fieldmarshal. Presumptuous censure of a commander, is in the army called mutiny, and according to our articles of war the punishment therefor is death.'
'You are now on duty, colonel,' said Arwed, with difficulty suppressing his anger. 'I shall therefore hold myself prepared to answer your reproach on a more suitable occasion.'
Some Danish rifle balls from the trenches at this moment whistling about their heads, broke off the conversation. The horsemen silently hastened out of the precincts of the deserted camp, and trotted briskly towards the east, after the retreating army.
They found the army near the city of Amal, upon lake Dalboe, beyond the borders of Norway. Baumgardt rode with his companions directly towards Amal, where the head quarters were established. At the gates they encountered colonel Brenner.
'Is it here we again meet, my dear traveling companion?' cried he to Arwed. 'I am sorry for it.'
'The soldier is indeed but a mere machine,' answered Arwed, 'who may not venture to love or regret any thing; yet is our present meeting of some importance to me, as I need your evidence to clear myself in the eyes of colonel Baumgardt. He is disposed to consider me a marauder or something worse, because he encountered me traveling without you on the road towards Frederickshall.'
'I gave the captain a furlough,' said Brenner to Baumgardt; 'and the fieldmarshal is already informed of it.' Baumgardt bowed in silence.
'Is there now any further hindrance to my taking leave of you?' said Arwed politely to the colonel. 'As soon as I am relieved from my present situation I will not fail to wait upon you for some further explanations.'
Baumgardt rode onward without deigning a word in reply.
'Come directly with me to my old friend Duecker,' said Brenner to Arwed. 'He arrived at head quarters, as I hear, early this morning, and I have come into the city on purpose to seek him. You must give to him and me an account of what has happened during your journey.'
When they arrived at Duecker's quarters they found he was not at home. Swedenborg was sitting in the room, in his traveling cloak, awaiting his return; and so busily studying some leaves of parchment full of signs and figures, that he did not observe the entrance of the new comers.
'God greet you, Swedenborg!' said Arwed with sad cordiality, extending his hand.
Swedenborg stared steadily at him for a long time, his eye indicating his entire absence of mind. Finally, a remembrance of Arwed's face seemed to return to him--he finished the notes he was making upon his parchments, put them aside, and then for the first time seized the proffered hand.
'Thereto art thou chosen, young man,' cried he pathetically with his hollow spirit-voice: 'always to be present when the weightiest events are occurring in the army, without being able to do any thing for the common good. At this moment is to be decided who is to rule over Sweden, and you can neither aid nor prevent, as it happened to you at the death of the king.'
'Is this a question yet to be decided?' asked Brenner. 'I think there is no longer any doubt that Ulkrika will be queen.'
'That is not so certain as you may think,' answered Swedenborg. 'The princess has indeed received the premature homage of the senate, and lavished rewards upon the generals; but the army has a voice in this business, and the superior right of the young duke is as clear as the sun. According to the Nordkioping compact of inheritance, no woman can become heir to the throne unless she be either unmarried, or married with the consent of the states to a Lutheran prince. But Ulrika has, without the consent of the states, married the prince of Hesse, who professes the Calvinistic faith.'
'Ulrika will nevertheless purchase the crown by surrendering a portion of its sovereignty,' retorted Brenner; 'and at this price they will let her off.'
'Hardly, if the young duke bids the same,' answered Swedenborg. 'General Duecker is even now with him for the purpose of prompting him to it. May God give efficacy to his words, for Sweden will have a bad government under this Ulrika.'
At this moment old Duecker entered with furious haste, threw his plumed hat angrily upon the floor, and paced rapidly up and down the room without perceiving the officers.
'Nothing accomplished?' asked Swedenborg dejectedly.
'What can be accomplished,' indignantly replied the general, 'when one has to do with a boy who is governed by fools? He relies confidently upon the strength of his party. He will inherit the royal power wholly unimpaired or not at all. And it is most certain that with his confidence and indolence he will be compelled to accept the latter alternative.'
'The last effort vain!' said Swedenborg, taking his hat. 'God preserve your excellency! I am going.'
'Will you also desert me, my dear ally?' asked Duecker despairingly.
'How can I be further useful in this place?' said Swedenborg. 'The siege is raised; my knowledge can never more be needed here. I go again to the examination of the mines. Under the present circumstances this upper air will no longer exactly agree with me, and I must see whether that of the mines will not be better for my constitution.' He now turned to Arwed. 'We shall meet again!' said he with a mysterious emphasis.
'Who knows!' answered Arwed, who looked to the future with sad misgivings.
'We shall meet again!' cried Swedenborg with greater emphasis; 'It is revealed to me by a dark, voiceless feeling which is vouchsafed to me by the Lord rather as a chastisement than as a mercy-gift. We shall meet again, and if I do not deceive myself, in the heaviest hour of your life. God give you strength to bear it.' He strode forth.
'Did you accomplish your object, Gyllenstierna?' Duecker now anxiously asked.
'Had I but reached Goertz an hour earlier,' answered Arwed. 'I witnessed his arrest.'
'That was the last hope!' cried Duecker, sorrowfully. 'Now is Goertz lost, as is also Sweden to the duke, beyond remedy!'
'Hast thou hoped until now?' asked Brenner with astonishment.
'Of what was not his spirit capable?' retorted Duecker. 'I have just now learned to know him aright from a letter of his to the king. Had Goertz saved himself, he had sufficient influence with the czar to have the occupation of the throne by the duke made the condition of peace. We can hardly imagine what he could not have accomplished. He was the man for Charles's gigantic plans; he was the man to save the tottering kingdom. Now will the sick in their paroxysms call upon the physician for cure, and who will help them?'
'Your fears carry you too far, general,' said Arwed. 'The enemies of Goertz may not be so embittered but that his life may be respected, if only from a holy fear of the manes of their fallen king.'
'You are too young to understand your nation thoroughly,' retorted Duecker. 'The proud senators will never forgive the foreigner for annihilating the last remains of their power by his bold measures; the people, who never dared to impeach their adored king, sought in Goertz the source of his misfortunes. Ulrika hates him, as she hates her nephew,--she fears his activity in the cause of the latter, and she can make an agreeable sacrifice to their prejudices by offering him up. He is a dead man!'
'Then must you assist in procuring my immediate discharge from the service, dear general,' said Arwed earnestly.
'Wherefore?--What has entered your head?' asked Duecker. 'You choose an unsuitable time. A great number of promotions will be immediately made, to win the army; your father is a strong supporter of the queen, and you may perhaps leap the rank of major and obtain a regiment.'
'I fear on the contrary,' answered Arwed gloomily, 'that I can no longer honorably remain a Swedish officer. But that is the least. A being, dearer to me than all others, can now hope for help and consolation from me alone. I must instantly proceed to Stockholm, even should I be compelled to desert from the army for that purpose.'
'There is yet no necessity for that,' said Duecker. 'The guards break up to-day for Stockholm, and will proceed there in advance of the remainder of the forces. Therefore do nothing precipitately. If your wish for a discharge should continue, I will endeavor to obtain its accomplishment at a proper time. Such a request, just at this time, would only render you suspected and hated, and would probably be unsuccessful.'
'That is the voice of a father,' said Arwed feelingly, 'You best know what is the most proper course for me, and I willingly hearken to you.'
At that moment the field music was heard in the distance sounding a wild alarm, and the thunder of the artillery through the city accompanied the peal like a powerful bass.
'What is that?' asked Brenner with surprise.
'The prince has operated suddenly and powerfully,' answered Duecker; 'more suddenly and energetically to obtain Sweden's crown for his wife, than to obtain a victory over Sweden's enemies. The army is won, and Ulrika is queen. That is what the thunder of the cannon denotes.'
The guards had marched into Stockholm. Arwed had performed all the duties of his service, and now flew towards the Blasiusholm to the house of the post-captain who had freely received and sheltered the deserted daughters of the unhappy Goertz. The moment he mentioned his name he was shown into Georgina's room. With a pale face and wasted frame she came forward to meet him. Ardently would he have folded her in his arms, but she held back and merely presented to him her thin white hand, whose icy coldness filled him with alarm.
'Thou hast not saved my father?' asked she with a trembling voice.
'By my honor!' cried Arwed, grieved at the silent reproach conveyed by the question; 'I did every thing in my power, but hard fate was stronger than my honest endeavors.'
'I must believe it,' answered Georgina, 'and thank you for your good intentions. If you are yet willing to make further efforts in my behalf, procure for me through your influence an interview with my father. They have hitherto rejected all my petitions with inhuman severity.'
'Whatever lies in my power I will essay for the accomplishment of your wish,' replied Arwed with much agitation.
'Leave me then for the present,' said Georgina. 'Go and make the effort and bring me word that they will extend towards my father a privilege which even robbers and murderers would not be denied.'
'Do you drive me from you so soon, Greorgina?' asked Arwed mournfully. 'Is this the welcome of a beloved and loving betrothed?'
'Betrothed?' sighed Georgina with a melancholy smile. 'Ah, dear Arwed! that is a subject upon which we must speak no more. The daughter of the man whom Sweden accuses of high treason, can never give her hand in marriage to a Swede.'
'Thinkest thou so meanly of me?' cried Arwed, with great earnestness. 'But no, you do not really think so. You only pretend indignation to conceal your want of affection. From the youth whom you once deemed worthy of your love, you must at least expect that your present misfortunes will bind him to you with still stronger chains.'
A faint blush flitted over Georgina's pale cheeks, and her eyes glistened. She hastily approached Arwed and laid her hand upon his breast. 'I know,' said she proudly, 'that whatever love and honor may demand of a Gyllenstierna, you will obey their voice in every circumstance of life. But a noble German maiden dares not forget what concerns her own honor,--and this commands me to refuse you my hand so long as your own countrymen can with propriety pronounce your union with me a misalliance.'
'You no longer love me!' complained Arwed.
Georgina gave him a glance in which shone all the glow of her first love, and, unconsciously, her eyes filled with tears. At last the all-powerful passion conquered. She threw her arms about his neck and pressed him to her bosom. 'Go, and strive!' sobbed she, retreating into a side cabinet.
Arwed wished to follow her, but hearing her draw the bolt on the inner side, he departed, bitterly afflicted with a confused throng of contending feelings.
While the new royal counsellor, Nils count Gyllenstierna was sitting, as two months before, employed at his writing table, Arwed timidly entered the room.
'Aha!' said he satirically, 'the brave captain has at last the goodness, after my repeated requests, to grant me an interview. I beg you will take a seat upon the sofa, and I will be at your service directly.'
Arwed, however, remained standing with a sad and resigned countenance, as he had determined to submit patiently to the censures of his passionate father, whose political ambition had now attained its utmost gratification.
The old counsellor continued writing for a short time, and then, signing his name with an energetic stroke of the pen, he arose and stepped immediately in front of his son, with folded arms and an angry countenance.
'Where shall I begin with my reproaches!' blustered he at length. 'You have committed so many excesses in so short a time, that it is difficult for me to select, and I can only fix my mind upon the result--that you are a ruined, yes, in the strictest sense, a _lost son_, with whom I am destined to have much trouble and sorrow.'
'That I went to the king's army against your will...?' commenced Arwed, pleadingly.
'That is the least!' proceeded the father, interrupting him. 'You have proceeded so far in your evil way, that even so shameless an act of disobedience has become a mere trifle, unworthy of consideration in comparison with your ulterior conduct. Besides, you may find some excuse for that act, in what has recently happened. According to despatches this day received, Armfelt's corps has been miserably frozen up in the ice mountains on its retreat towards Jemtland, and although you have caused me much sorrow, I am yet glad that your obstinacy has this time saved you from an inglorious death.'
'Thanks to thee, true warner,' said Arwed tremblingly to himself;--then addressing his father: 'if that be not the cause of your anger, may I beg of you to name my other transgressions. From your justice I have a right to hope that I shall be allowed to exculpate myself.'
'Bold and insolent as usual!' grumbled the old man. '_Quasi re bene gesta_ comes he before me, while he thinks I am not acquainted with his conduct. Who joined himself to the deputation which endeavored to have the duke of Holstein proclaimed in the camp as king of Sweden? Who obtruded himself as a companion upon colonel Brenner, that he might insult the queen and warn Goertz of his well-deserved fate? Who threatened colonel Baumgardt with a challenge for doing his duty? Who has been this very day to visit the daughter of the arch-traitor, for whom the scaffold is already preparing?'
'You are very accurately informed, my father,' answered Arwed. 'I am too proud to deny what I have done, nor do I believe it deserves your anger. The king, when he appointed me a captain in the royal service, thereby rendered me independent of parental authority, and thenceforth free to follow the dictates of my own judgment. You yourself must concede, that the right was doubtful between the princess and the duke. I, however, am firmly convinced that it is entirely on the side of the latter, and have acted accordingly. I wished to save Goertz, because I believed him innocent. His crime is, that the king, so little in the habit of receiving advice from others, honored him with his exclusive confidence; that he is a foreigner, and the capable and dreaded servant of a young prince who is a candidate for a crown which you think he ought not to have.'
'You believe all this, because you love his daughter!' remarked the father.
'Colonel Baumgardt,' proceeded Arwed, 'has injured me personally, and we shall settle that matter as is usual among men of honor, as soon as my cares for Georgina may leave me time.'
'Arwed!' cried the father, 'do you then really entertain a hope that I will give my consent to this foolish connection?'
'Do as you think proper, my father,' answered Arwed. 'My resolution is taken, whatever may betide. Nor could you yourself approve my conduct if, now that the storm is breaking over her innocent head, I should desert the maiden whose heart I won when the sun of prosperity shone brightly upon her.'
'The queen will forbid the union,' said the old man.
'And were it the bold Margaret herself,' cried Arwed with passionate warmth, 'who united upon her own head the three northern crowns, and held them there with a strong hand, she would not dare attempt to regulate the impulses of our hearts! How much less, then, this poor Ulrika, whose only crown, to which she has no right, was shamefully bought with the costliest jewel of royalty, the sovereignty.'
'You are deep in constitutional principles,' said the counsellor peevishly--but his strong displeasure was already melted into secret satisfaction with the talent and spirit of his son. He appeared, standing there before him with his flashing blue eyes, his scarred cheek and noble bearing, as if he were about to plant again the Swedish standard upon a stormed wall. 'Upon honor!' at length exclaimed the old man, 'if you had not conducted yourself so bravely before Frederickshall, I would reckon with you in another fashion. But the deed of arms which Charles the XIIth rewarded with an embrace, must be considered as truly heroic--and to a hero much must be forgiven. To that, we Swedes have long been accustomed.'
'Nor was that embrace the best of the king's favors,' said Arwed eagerly. 'For beating back a sally of the Danes, I had his word for my marriage with Greorgina. And surely you would not have resisted the request of Charles.'
'Yes,' answered his father, turning away from him; 'and now all that has been changed forever by one bullet! I pity you, poor youth, but your case cannot be helped!'
'I do not yet give up every hope,' said Arwed. 'They dare not murder Goertz without a trial, and if they will but give him a fair one he must be acquitted.'
'Do you think so?' murmured the old man; 'so do not we think here in Stockholm, and all Sweden cries out guilty against him.'
'The voice of the people is not always the voice of God,' said Arwed. 'I still trust in holy justice. But I have a favor to ask of you, my father. The baron's daughter wishes to see her father. Give me the necessary permission.'
'That is not to be thought of for the present,' answered the father. 'Perhaps it may be obtained a little later, after the sentence has been pronounced. Besides I am not the person who has power to grant it. Upon such a request the president of the special commission, landmarshal Ribbing, must decide.'
'Alas, that heart of stone!' cried Arwed. 'Give me at least a letter of introduction to him, that he may do from favor what is only a duty.'
'I can have nothing to do with the affair,' said the father angrily. 'You presume upon my forbearance.'
He pointed towards the door. Arwed wished to speak to him yet once again, but the counsellor, turning his back upon him, walked to his writing-table and the son in sadness departed.
Every effort to move, to win, to alarm, which the eloquence of the soul could inspire, had Arwed lavished upon landmarshal Ribbing. But powerless as the waves against the rocks, were his words with the immovable man; and, with anger at the refusal rankling at his heart, the young man now stood in the high arched basement story of the council house upon the Suedermalm, where Goertz was held in confinement, seeking, with his open purse in his hand, and not without secret reluctance, to try the effect of gross corruption upon the gaoler.
But the gaoler shook his head suspiciously. 'God knows,' said he, clinking the keys attached to his waist-belt, 'God knows how willingly I would take your gold. But one must have discretion, captain, and use the little judgment God has given him. Your purse would be very useful to me, but my head is still more so, and it is that which I should peril. Therefore have the goodness to retire, that I may not suffer inconvenience from being seen talking to you here.' With this he opened a little wicket by the side of the great gate, and pointing the way out, made at the same time a very low bow.
Arwed angrily complied with the hard necessity, and, as he now considered the rejected purse as unworthy of being returned to his pocket, he threw it to an invalid soldier who limped past him on his crutches, and was on the point of hastening away.
'Take me with you, count Gyllenstierna!' cried a low, melodious voice, behind him. He turned around, and saw a man of about forty years of age, with an intelligent, bold and honest face, in a clerical dress, who had followed him out of the house.
'Do you know me, reverend sir?' asked Arwed with surprise.
'Only from the conversations of the unfortunate man to whom you just now wished to purchase admission,' answered the clergyman, proceeding with him towards the city. 'But your whole manner and bearing told me that you must be captain Gyllenstierna, and there is no one to whom I could better appeal than you. I am preacher to the German community in this place. Baron von Goertz has requested my spiritual assistance, which I have truly rendered to him with both joy and sorrow. But the undeserved fate of my unhappy countryman has so affected me that I am determined to do something more for him. His immortal soul is well prepared by a blameless life, and by a true and genuine faith which I have perceived in him. I would also gladly save his mortal body, that the intelligent and well disposed man may be enabled yet further to labor for the benefit of this country, or for some other, if Sweden is unwise enough to repudiate him.'
'Worthy servant of God!' exclaimed Arwed, with a sudden pressure of his hand.
'First of all,' proceeded the preacher, 'I will make an effort with the queen. I have been to the palace three times already. Her majesty, however, was never to be spoken with, which I attribute to the numerous enemies which Goertz has made amongst the courtiers.'
'You might as well attribute it to the ill will of the queen herself,' said Arwed.
'So much the better!' cried the preacher. 'That would be a good sign for me. Then does she shun the truth, which she would hear from me; and if I can only succeed in obtaining an audience, I augur the happiest consequences. You are well acquainted at the palace, count. Procure me an audience of the queen, and the rest shall be my care. She is, at any rate, a woman, and must have a compassionate heart.'
'You have chosen a bad protector, sir pastor,' said Arwed, with a sad smile. 'But I will procure for you an audience with the queen, if I have to open a path to her with my sword.'
While they were thus conversing they had passed the bridge connecting the Suedermalm with the city, the streets of which they threaded until they approached the Ritterholm.
'Announce us to the queen,' begged Arwed of the valet-de-chambre whom they found before the door of the queen's apartments, flipping some pieces of gold into his hands. 'The count Gyllenstierna and pastor Conradi beg that she will graciously grant them a short audience upon a most pressing concern.'
'I will do my best,' said the valet-de-chambre in the most friendly manner, going in.
After a short time he returned. 'It was all succeeding well,' said he, 'but the name of the black coat spoiled all. By that was the attention of her majesty arrested, and she then asked whether it was the younger or elder Gyllenstierna who had requested to be announced. She cannot see you now, and the gentlemen may hand in their request in writing, by the chamberlain in waiting.'
'Perdition!' cried Arwed, indignant at his own helplessness.
'This amounts to a refusal,' stammered Conradi. 'When the great of the earth demand that a petitioner shall put the all-powerful words of his mouth into cold, dead characters upon paper, and hamper the strength of his good cause by a submission to prescribed formulas, it is because they are determined not to grant his request, and wish to avoid pronouncing with their lips the refusal of which in their hearts they are ashamed.' Meanwhile it had become night, and the servants lighted the lamps in the ante-chamber.
A high officer entered the ante-room for the purpose of passing through it into the audience chamber.
'Who is this gentleman?' whispered Conradi to the valet-de-chambre.
'Lieutenant general Rank,' answered the latter.
'Goertz has named him to me as his last friend,' said Conradi to Arwed; 'perhaps he can do something for us.'
'Have the goodness to grant us a word, general,' said Arwed hastily to him.--He turned and approached them.
'We are here,' said Arwed in a moving tone, 'to present a petition in favor of baron Goertz. The queen has refused us an audience. You are going directly to her majesty, and therefore we beg of you to endeavor, if possible, to obtain for us a hearing. We are indeed unknown to you, but your own heart will be our advocate.'
'To whom is the brave Gyllenstierna unknown,' said Rank in the kindest manner; 'neither is this worthy pastor a stranger to me. What little influence I may have, I will willingly exert for you; but I know the queen, and doubt a favorable result.'
He went in. The two confederates stood waiting in the ante-room until he returned. 'The queen,' said he, 'will pass through here when she repairs to the grand hall, and will hear you as she passes. Speak submissively and briefly, and may God guide your tongues.'
The folding doors flew open. Two bedizened pages lighted the way with torches. Between two richly embroidered and highly scented chamberlains, rustled forth the proud Ulrika, oppressed by a heavy silken and gold-embroidered hoop petticoat, with clouds of lace about her bosom, and her arms, hands, breast and ears overloaded with jewels, and above her high, frizzed curls glistened the little crown of brilliants. Pages bore her long train, and her maids of honor followed. The queen looked displeasedly towards the unwelcome petitioners. Conradi approached, fell upon one knee, pressed the hem of her robe to his lips, and then with a soft and winning dignity of manner said, 'I beg a hearing of your majesty upon a question of mercy.'
'Stand up and speak,' answered Ulrika, stopping, and causing her train of attendants to halt.
'Your majesty,' said Conradi, without changing his position, 'has inherited the crown of Sweden from your deceased royal brother....'
'Inherited! quite right!' interposed Ulrika quickly: 'and it is unaccountable to us,' she proceeded, looking at her companions, 'that doubt upon that subject can yet be entertained in any quarter.'
'It is not to be doubted,' said the pastor, astonished at this unexpected episode, 'that your majesty heartily honors the memory of our late glorious king, as you were so nearly connected with him by the ties of blood. Nevertheless, his truest servant, the man upon whom he bestowed unlimited confidence, now languishes in undeserved chains. A criminal court is now sitting upon him, and all, who are convinced of his innocence, shudder at the possibility: that Sweden may be guilty of shedding that noble blood.'
'The number of them will not be great,' said Ulrika, coolly. 'Have you any thing further to say to us?'
'I beg of your majesty mercy for unhappy Goertz,' said Conradi with increasing warmth. 'I appeal to the softer feelings of your sex, to the magnanimity of the princess, to the forgiving spirit of the christian. By the God in whom we all believe, Goertz is innocent. And if he has done any thing wrong, and so brought any misfortune upon Sweden, which I do not know, he has but acted in obedience to his lord, like a true vassal, and that lord was entitled to the unreserved obedience of all, whilst he reigned over this land as an absolute sovereign.'
'Sweden will have cause to remember that unlimited sovereignty for some generations,' remarked Ulrika, glancing at the splendid watch hanging at her girdle. 'Please to come to an end.'
'I have nothing more to add,' said the preacher dejectedly, 'except to implore your majesty to signalize the commencement of your reign by an act of mercy, rather than by the shedding of blood.'
'Mercy for Goertz!' cried Arwed, throwing himself at the queen's feet, and pressing her once scorned hand passionately to his lips.
Ulrika, surprised by the sudden movement, withdrew her hand with a look of pride and scorn, and motioned him to rise. Without deigning to answer him, she turned again to the still kneeling preacher. 'My good man,' said she, with cold friendliness, 'I would willingly forgive the baron for all the evil he has done to me. The queen has no memory for injuries suffered by the princess. But the decision lies not with me. Next to God, have I from my true states received the crown, and without their voice I neither can nor will decide upon crimes against the nation, of which Goertz is accused.' She made a sign to her attendants, and moved proudly forward.
'All in vain!' cried Conradi, rising. 'And this affected mildness, beneath which the queen conceals her implacable hatred, is to me more frightful than if she had poured forth her anger in passionate words. Here is a coolly devised plan to destroy an innocent man, against which even the eloquence of the apostle Paul himself would fail to succeed. Let us go.'
Sadly they turned towards the door. Fieldmarshal, the prince of Hesse, entering at that moment, met them.
'Is my wife yet here?' asked he of lieutenant general Rank. 'I come to lead her to the court.'
'She has just gone,' answered Rank. 'Her majesty was pleased to grant an audience here before she went.'
The prince looked at both of the supplicants. 'Captain Gyllenstierna!' said he, playfully, 'what affair could bring you to the ante-chamber, which is certainly a ground upon which you have not yet learned to man[oe]uvre?'
'So our ill-success has proved,' answered Arwed, with suppressed rage. 'We have been vainly pleading for the life of the unhappy Goertz.'
'For Goertz's life?' asked the prince with an appearance of interest. 'I can guess what prompts you to the effort, and pity you from the bottom of my heart. It is a very bad case.'
'If your royal highness will graciously condescend to interest yourself, we shall have new grounds for hope, and all may yet end well,' said Conradi.
'Trouble not his royal highness with your intercessions, Conradi,' said Arwed bitterly. 'Upon his high command was the baron arrested; consequently he has already decided upon his guilt, and mercy here is not to be thought of.'
'You deceive yourself, captain,' said the prince, mildly correcting the excited youth. 'I hate not the unfortunate man. Powerless he must become, and powerless he must remain, but his death would be contrary to my wish and my advice. If his sentence depended upon me, I would banish him from the country, and so settle all.'
'Ah, if your royal highness will exert your influence in favor of a mild sentence,' cried Conradi in raptures, 'God will be your rich rewarder.'
'My dear pastor,' answered the prince graciously, 'this case will probably be decided by the diet. The power of my wife is circumscribed, and I am only her first subject.'
'Yet,' interposed Arwed, 'the delightful privilege remains to your royal highness of alleviating the last hours of the unhappy man whom you cannot save. His daughter wishes to be permitted to speak to him. I wish to conduct her there, but the president of the special commission is inexorable.'
'That is hard!' said the prince. 'A criminal is still a man. Go directly to Ribbing, my dear Rank, and say to him that it is my wish.'
'God bless your royal highness for the deed!' cried the preacher.
'But that no trouble may arise from this exercise of my kind feelings,' proceeded the prince, 'I require your word of honor, and your knightly hand, Gyllenstierna, that this permission shall in no way be abused.'
Arwed started. The thought, how advantage might be taken of such a permission, now for the first time arose in his honest soul.
His hand shrunk as if he would have drawn it back; but the prince extended his, and Arwed finally took it.
'Adieu,' said the prince, dismissing them in the most friendly manner, and the two petitioners left the palace.
'What is now to be done to advance the main object?' asked Conradi of the sullenly silent Arwed. 'I think we had better send a pressing petition to the diet, although I should hope nothing from it. They will leave every thing to the special commission,--and from the people, who are congratulating each other and rejoicing that they have become coadjutors in this business, we have nothing to expect.'
'Have they done that?' asked Arwed eagerly.
'Yes,' answered Conradi. 'Some among them have presumed openly to say, if Goertz does not lose his head this time, we shall lose ours.'
'Miserable spirit of party!' cried Arwed; 'under whose shield the judge may venture unpunished to throw his own hatred into the scale against the accused.'
For a while they walked on silently together. All at once Arwed stopped. 'God has given me a thought!' said he. 'The young duke arrived here yesterday. Goertz has never ceased to be his servant. He was only _loaned_ to Sweden, and the duke must interfere in his favor. The officer of a foreign sovereign cannot be judged here.'
'It is undeniable,' said Conradi thoughtfully, 'that the duke has the right and it is also his duty to interfere. The question is, however, has he the will? This prince still flatters himself that he has yet a chance of ascending the Swedish throne, and will not, therefore, be willing to lessen his influence with the diet.'
'The attempt must be made,' cried Arwed resolutely. 'I will hasten to him. Have the goodness to send information to the baroness Goertz upon the Blasiusholm, that she will, as I hope, be permitted to visit her father; and, God willing, we will meet in the morning at the Suedermalm council house.'
They shook hands and separated, Arwed flew to the palace of the duke of Holstein Gottorp. He was immediately announced and admitted. With an irresolute face, wherein hope and fear alternately prevailed, came the young prince to meet him, asking in an effeminate tone, 'what is your pleasure?'
'One of the officers,' answered Arwed, 'who, in the camp before Frederickshall, was anxious to have your grace proclaimed king of Sweden, ventures to bring the name of the unhappy Goertz to your remembrance.'
'I do not wish to hear any thing of this man,' said the duke, looking timidly about him. 'My interference in the case might be misconstrued by the Swedes, and it behoves me at this moment to avoid every thing which might occasion a misunderstanding.'
'Goertz is without aid and in prison,' proceeded Arwed, with manly earnestness, 'because they fear his ability, his activity and his devotion to your grace. Through this imprisonment of your servant, your sovereign rights are infringed. His life is in danger. To save it, it is only necessary for your grace to claim him of the Swedish government with princely energy. However great the animosity against him, party rage cannot withstand your demand, without violating the law of nations. They must deliver the unhappy man to you, and you will have the satisfaction of gratifying the feelings of your heart by this exercise of your rightful power, and of preserving for yourself an able supporter.'
'You would have spared yourself this long exposition, captain,' said the duke, with an unmeaning smile, 'had you known that Goertz has ceased to be my servant.'
An indignant 'ah!' escaped from the youth, and the duke proceeded.--'A man whom the whole Swedish nation as with one voice accuses, could not remain in my service. He has been dismissed from the offices which he held under me. And, being wholly surrendered, the laws of the country which he has offended must decide his fate.'
'I understand!' exclaimed Arwed with great excitement.--'Your grace hopes to win the love of Sweden by the desertion of your truest friend, and by publicly offering him up to gratify her vengeance. But if I may venture to judge of my native country, this sad expedient will entirely fail. It will only cause you to be hated. And your ingratitude will again with ingratitude be rewarded.'
Overwhelmed with despair at the wreck of this last hope, he rushed into the street.
At the council house upon the Suedermalm, in the arched and grated room occupied by Goertz, the pale Georgina sat waiting, her weary head resting upon Arwed's shoulder. With a melancholy glance the youth surveyed the mean table and wooden stool which composed all the furniture in the dwelling-place of the once all-powerful prime minister. At length a confused noise was heard without, and from the midst of the crowd of soldiers by whom he was surrounded, the worthy Goertz entered the room. He was accompanied by lieutenant general Rank and the pastor Conradi, A clerk of the court followed, who remained upon the threshold with a timepiece in his hand, while the gaoler bolted the door behind him on the outside.
Georgina rushed with a loud scream to meet her father, pressing his chained hand to her lips.
'Behold, my Georgina,' said the old man encouragingly, 'a joyful moment after so many sad days! God disposes all things for the best. But you must not weep, my daughter. Your tears move me powerfully, and I have need of repose. I am harassed in mind as well as in body. Standing up through a six hours' examination has much weakened me.'
'How!' asked Arwed indignantly, 'did they not allow you to be seated?'
'I requested it,' answered Goertz, sinking down upon his wooden stool, 'but the lords were of opinion that they could not allow a man like me to sit in their presence. The words were yet harder than the refusal itself. But let that pass. What is your sister about, Georgina? She is well? Why did you not bring her with you?'
'The permission was only allowed to myself and Arwed,' said Georgina. 'They would not allow the child to come in, and I was compelled to send her back from the door.'
'They are very strict with me in every respect,' said Goertz, 'whilst they permit themselves every latitude to my disadvantage. This day's examination furnishes sufficient proof of this.'
'I must hope, my old friend,' said Rank much moved, 'that the commission will allow you every legal and proper indulgence.'
'A copy of the accusation has never once been laid before me,' answered Goertz. 'I begged that my process might not be overhastened. I begged also for permission to make a written defence. Both were denied me. I begged to be allowed the assistance of professional counsel. This legal aid also, which every murderer enjoys, was withheld from me.'
'Unheard of!' cried Rank indignantly. 'The queen cannot refuse these requests consistently with her own honor. I will speak to her about it.'
'My good Rank,' said Goertz, extending his hand to him with a smile of gratitude, 'put not yourself to any inconvenience on my account. I am not to be saved. When the blood of my king flowed, the same moment was my sentence pronounced. Sweden thirsts for my blood, and it must be drunken. This conviction has its benefits. It raises me above delusive hopes, and confers upon me the quiet repose of resignation.'
'My dear father!' sobbed Georgina, who had sunk down before him, with her head resting upon his knees.
'My good child!' said Goertz, lifting up her face and looking at her with an expression of unutterable tenderness. 'Thou hast thy mother's eyes,' added he, laying his hand softly upon her cheek. 'I must take a long look that every lineament may remain in my memory. For this enjoyment may never again be allowed to me.'
'This is the only interview which I could prevail upon the inexorable Ribbing to grant,' said Rank sadly. 'They will not, however, refuse you a farewell conversation with your daughters after the trial.'
Goertz kissed the tears from his daughter's eyes. But his parental feelings became too strong for him. 'Leave me!' said he springing up: 'this trial is too great for me!' and he walked up and down the room with hasty strides.
'One satisfaction,' resumed he suddenly, as if wishing to divert his thoughts to other objects by the observation: 'one satisfaction have I yet had in those hours when every one seemed to aim at my utter prostration. Fehmann, my accuser, read, as a proof that I had calumniated his subjects to the king, a letter, in which I had complained to Charles of the neglect of his duty by a governor of a province, and recommended his dismission. When he had read thus far he laid the letter aside. I requested that the remainder might be read; the commission decided in my favor, and Fehmann was now compelled to read a description of himself as an able and faithful man whom I recommended to the king for the place.'
'And did not the wretch throw himself at your feet overwhelmed with shame and contrition?' cried Arwed in a rage.
'My good captain,' answered Goertz, 'the minds of the people who pursue me are so perfectly settled, that they are incapable of such emotions.'
'Can I then do nothing, nothing at all, for you?' sobbed Georgina. 'I will go with Magdalena to all your judges, clasp their knees and entreat for mercy; the prayers and tears of innocent children, whom they are about to make orphans, will, perhaps, move their flinty, hearts.'
'I forbid your doing that!' answered Goertz with decision. 'What you could ask for me has already been attempted by true friends, and attempted in vain.'
At this moment the court scribe held out the watch in his hand, and cried, 'the time has expired!'
'My God! the time has expired!' shrieked Georgina: 'and I had so many things to say, and so many questions to ask you, my father, but your sufferings have put them all out of my head. Have you nothing to charge me with?'
'The crown of Sweden,' answered Goertz with a melancholy smile, 'has relieved me of the care of my earthly possessions. My palace is plundered, my funds and papers are all seized, and will probably be confiscated for the benefit of the royal treasury. What it may be necessary for you to know, in relation to these affairs you will find in my testament, which I hope to be able to finish in the course of the next few days.'
'And have you nothing else to say?' cried she, weeping upon his neck.
'We shall meet once more before my last hour,' answered Goertz with a failing voice. 'Leave me now, my dear daughter.' He gently disengaged himself from her arms and walked to the grated window, concealing his face in his handkerchief.
'Father!' shrieked Georgina with desperation, and, springing after him, again clasped him in her arms.
'Really, two minutes have already elapsed beyond the time, your excellency,' said the clerk importunately, holding up his watch to lieutenant general Rank. 'I shall be made answerable for any further delay.'
'Take her hence!' cried Goertz, placing Georgina in Arwed's arms. 'Obey, my daughter!'--and Arwed bore the fainting sufferer out.
The diet of Sweden had assembled at the capital. To the house of assembly hastened the Swedish lords, counts and barons, the knights, the lower nobility, and the good men of the kingdom, to deliberate upon her welfare in the _pleno plenorum_. Arwed rode gloomily through the files of carriages and masses of people who filled the Ritter square in crowds. His way led him past the statue of the great Gustavus Vasa, which adorned the place. 'Oh that thou wert now alive, noble hero!' sighed he, as he came in view of it. 'Then, truly, the despotism of vassals would not dare to deck itself with the robes of righteousness!' As if desirous of fleeing from the grief which preyed upon him, he gave the spur to his horse, and hastily passed the bridge which connects Holy-Ghost island and the city with the Norrmalm, and followed the south bank towards Blasiusholm, the refuge of Georgina. At the door he met the preacher Conradi, in whose countenance he observed with surprise an expression of hope and serenity, mingled with some degree of excitement. They entered the room of the young sufferer together.
'Sister is praying in her chamber,' whispered the little Magdalena to them. 'We must not disturb her.'
'May God hear the prayer of the pious maiden,' said Conradi. 'Since yesterday a small gleam of hope has arisen.'
'Hope?' asked Arwed. 'You have seen the cold, inimical, hypocritical face of the queen, and dream you yet of hope?'
'If Ulrika remain queen,' answered Conradi, 'then indeed is Goertz lost; but she has received as yet but the allegiance of the senate and army, and not that of the country. Before she obtains the latter many things may happen. I spoke yesterday with the counsellor count Tessin, who is most favorably disposed towards our poor friend. The queen has committed a great political error. She has, in convoking the members of the diet, styled herself hereditary queen. This has injured her cause. The senate has been severely reproached on account of the readiness with which it acknowledged her hereditary right. They have also sought to awaken dissatisfaction among the people; and in the last sitting of the senate, the president, count Horn, did not hesitate to desire of the queen that she should surrender the conferring of the royal dignity to the decision of the diet. That only would insure her the crown, which she else may lose.'
'Elected or hereditary queen! is it not all one?' asked Arwed.
'Not for the diet,' answered Conradi; 'and as little for the queen. The hereditary king is indebted only to God and his forefathers; the elected king is the creature of the electors, and must be dependent upon them.'
'And if Ulrika should now stand upon her hereditary right?' asked Arwed further.
'Then,' answered Conradi, 'she would by this exercise of arbitrary power, provoke the diet to inquire into the hereditary right of the duke of Holstein, which would perhaps stand the scrutiny much better than her's.'
'That would little help the good cause!' replied Arwed. 'What can be expected of a prince who is capable of giving up his faithful minister to the rage of his enemies?'
'Or the throne would be declared vacant,' proceeded Conradi, 'and a regent of the empire seated upon it. To that end are many Swedish lords laboring, as I am well informed from good sources. At all events let there be a change in the government, and there may be also a change of feeling in relation to Goertz, to his advantage.'
'I doubt that,' observed Arwed. 'Though the contending parties may oppose each other ever so bitterly on other subjects, all unite in their hatred of the foreigner. He is the common enemy against whom they all, as one man, array themselves.'
'You shall not thus frivolously deprive me of my best joy,' said Conradi, struck by the weight of his objection.
'All your suppositions,' continued Arwed, 'are founded upon the hypothesis that the queen will persevere in maintaining her hereditary right. But she will not persevere. As soon as it clearly appears to her that she can purchase the crown only at this price, she will become an elective queen, or charity queen, or whatever else it may please the diet to name her.'
'Do you think so?' asked Conradi with alarm.
'Has she not already yielded the sovereignty?' asked Arwed. 'She who can lend herself to become a state puppet, to be decked out with crown and sceptre on festival days, that the people may imagine they have a queen, will, not be obstinate upon minor points. Let her but retain the title of queen, and that will be enough for a vain-glorious woman.'
'Destroy not so cruelly my last air-built castle, Arwed!' said Georgina, stepping out of her chamber, her eyes red with weeping. 'I have enjoyed to-day the first cheerful moment for months, through the intelligence brought me by the good Conradi, and your contradiction of it cuts me to the heart.'
'Do not lose courage yet, baroness!' said Conradi, consolingly. 'Notwithstanding the captain despairs of every thing, the anchor of my hopes still holds fast in this tempest. Let the _plenum plenorum_ be only once held, and then will Gyllenstierna hold another language.'
'Then may we very soon expect their decision,' said Arwed. 'The _plenum plenorum_ is already organized. May its deliberations result differently from my anticipations!'
'Organized to-day?' asked Conradi with great astonishment. 'I thought that to-day would be occupied in examining credentials and establishing forms of procedure.'
'That had been previously done,' answered Arwed. 'I know for a certainty, by means of my father's secretary, that the full action of the diet commences to-day.'
'Then count Tessin has not dealt fairly with me,' murmured Conradi, shaking his head. 'Probably he wished to lull me to sleep and find out what further means might be at my command. That is not cavalier-like. When the lion creeps and watches like the cat, it becomes only a common animal.'
A long pause ensued, during which each one was occupied with his own thoughts. Georgina leaned her head upon the back of her chair, whilst her breast labored with the anguish of fearful expectation. Arwed stood there with his arms folded, casting glances of love and compassion upon the maiden. The little Magdalena, unaware of the importance of the moment, was innocently playing with his sword knot; while Conradi had stepped to the window, and was listening attentively to every sound from without.
'Did you not hear something like the sound of a distant bell?' he asked Arwed. The latter hastened anxiously to the window, and listened to the faint sounds. Directly more distinct tones fell upon his ear.
'Those are the bells of Jacob's church!' cried Georgina, springing up. 'What means this general ringing of the bells at so unusual an hour?'
'Something of importance either for good or evil,' said Conradi. 'I think the diet must have decided, and these bells are to celebrate their choice.'
'Arwed!' sighed Georgina, stretching out her hands imploringly towards the youth.
'I will go into the city and procure intelligence,' said he, seizing his hat. 'God grant that I may bring you back good news.'
He hastened out, threw himself upon his horse, and coursed back to the city. From every tower rung out the merry peal of the bells, and in all the streets through which he rode, floated joyous multitudes of people. In the great square they were crowded head to head, and ten thousand hands pointed towards the capitol. 'The hour of decision has arrived,' said Arwed to himself. Leaping from his horse, and throwing the bridle reins to his servant, he pushed his way through the crowd to the portal of the building.
There stood the pompous equipage of the duke of Holstein. The duke sat therein, viewing the windows of the hall of assembly with a countenance expressive of sorrow and offended pride. An elderly gentleman in the uniform of a Holstein general, and with a pensive air, stepped out of the door of the capitol.'
'Now, Bauer?' cried the duke to him impatiently, throwing open the door of the carriage.
'All in vain, your grace!' said Bauer, stepping into the carriage. 'I did not even obtain an opportunity to read your protest to the end.'
'Sweden, Sweden, to whom I have offered up every thing,' growled the duke, 'is this your gratitude!' Hastily catching hold of the general, he drew him into the carriage and shut the door, crying, 'forward!' The carriage soon rattled out of Arwed's view.
Trumpets now sounded from the balcony of the capitol, attracting Arwed's attention to the place. The president of the senate, count Horn, accompanied by many of the senators, stepped out upon the balcony. 'Silence!' cried he to the crowd below, waving his hand. 'Silence!' cried the people in return, and all was still.
'Free Swedes!' cried the orator, 'the royal council and the assembled diet of this kingdom, by virtue of the elective right vested in them, in consequence of the throne having become vacant without immediate heirs, have elected to be queen of the Swedes and Goths the full sister of our immortal lord, her royal highness and princely grace the landgravine Ulrika Eleonora of Hesse. This gracious princess having solemnly renounced the sovereignty, so named, or unlimited sovereign power, we hereby declare the said unlimited power to be forever alienated from the throne, and will hold as an enemy to the kingdom whoever may hereafter, by secret artifice or the open exertion of force, attempt the assumption or exercise of absolute power. Long live her majesty, queen Ulrika Eleonora!'
'Long live her majesty Ulrika Eleonora!' roared the numberless throng, mingling their voices with the trumpet blasts; and, as if raised by a whirlwind, their hats and caps flew high in air.
'All is lost!' cried Arwed indignantly, as he opened a way for himself through the crowd.
On the twenty-first day of February, 1719, Arwed entered the prison of the unhappy Goertz, in company with lieutenant general Rank.
'I bring to you a suppliant, my poor friend,' said Rank, with a melancholy smile, to Goertz. 'The captain has not ceased to besiege his royal highness, until he obtained his permission for this interview with you. He has a great favor to ask, and if my word is entitled to any weight, I am his witness that he has well deserved it. He has, through his ceaseless activity in your behalf, drawn down upon himself the hatred of the Swedish nobility; and could he purchase your life with his own, I am fully satisfied that he would make the sacrifice with joy.'
'Good man!' said Goertz much agitated, extending his hand to Arwed. 'God grant that you may have something to ask of me that my duty will allow me to perform.'
'You know my love for your Georgina, my father,' said Arwed, pressing the old man's hand upon his heart. 'I beg your benediction upon our union.'
'I have anticipated this request,' sighed Goertz. 'It does you honor under the present circumstances, but I must not say yes to it.'
'Oh retract those hard words!' begged Arwed. 'You yourself just now called me a good man. By heaven I am so. Your daughter loves me--and our glorious king, the evening before his death, promised to crown my wishes.'
'I know it all,' said Goertz, 'but I can give no other answer.'
'You hate the Swede in me,' said Arwed in a tone of the deepest sorrow; 'nor can I blame you for it.'
'Have you no better opinion of the father of your beloved?' asked Goertz, with mild reproach. 'I love the man in you, and you may learn of my daughter that I was not opposed to your wishes, when I yet stood in my former elevated position. But what would the world say of me, should I willfully make you unhappy by consenting to your marriage with the daughter of an unfortunate man whom your father hates, and whose life and honor will soon be destroyed by one sharp stroke. If, when my fate shall have been sealed, my daughter's passion remain stronger than her remembrance of it, she is then at liberty to follow the dictates of her own heart. I neither advise nor forbid the connection, and shall earnestly pray to God that all may go well with you, and that you may never have cause to repent the inconsiderate step.'
'Ah, that is a comfortless consent,' said Arwed sorrowfully. 'Georgina's overstrained delicacy induces her to take the same ground against me, and I have now come to beg your intercession with her, which is necessary to my success.'
'My daughter feels as a Goertz must feel,' answered the old man, 'It is noble in you to persist in your request. Concede to us also the generosity of the refusal.'
'You make not me alone unhappy!' cried Arwed with vehemence. 'I may, indeed, in time become reconciled to it. But your daughter will also be made miserable at the same time. Her love is stronger than she, in the depth of her filial sorrow, at present supposes it. She may, indeed, give me up, but she can never forget me.'
'The consciousness of having done right will help her to bear much, my son,' answered Goertz. 'Let us talk of it no more.'
'You rend my heart,' said Rank with weeping eyes. 'But I thank you for this sorrow. It is a high and holy privilege to behold virtue struggling with heavy and undeserved affliction.'
At this moment the keys were heard rattling in the prison door. It creaked upon its hinges, and in stepped, with the proud dignity of his black official robes, and with deep traces of hidden malice and bodily suffering in his yellow face, the speaker Hylten, delegate of the citizens to the imperial diet of the realm, and a member of the commission instituted for the trial of the prisoner.--He was followed by one of the clerks of the court, with his arm full of documents.
'I come, von Goertz,' unceremoniously commenced Hylten, 'to make known to you the sentence of the special commission. Receive it with becoming respect.'
'I must indeed,' answered Goertz with a bitter smile, slightly rattling his chains. He rose up, and Hylten took a large sealed document from the hands of the clerk.
'Do you wish that we should retire, sir commissioner?' asked Rank.
'You may remain here forever, if you please, sir lieutenant general,' answered Hylten contemptuously. 'The crimes of this man are notorious, as his punishment will also be, and where justice is sustained by the general voice, there can be no necessity for avoiding publicity.'
'The royal commission,' read he, with a sharp and discordant voice, 'having heard and considered all the accusations brought by the attorney general, Fehmann, and also the replications of the baron von Goertz thereto....'
'Without consenting to receive my written defence!' interposed Goertz.
'And all the plots and devices of the said Goertz,' proceeded Hylten without noticing the interruption, since his coming into this kingdom, having for their object to bring by wicked means the subjects of the said kingdom into great discredit with the king ...'
'All?' asked Goertz. 'He who affirms too much, affirms nothing.'
'And how he,' proceeded Hylten, 'represented them as evil-minded and idle persons, who were unwilling to contribute towards the general welfare.'
'Could that have been a crime?' asked Goertz.
'And also,' read Hylten, 'endeavored to destroy the confidence of the king in the senators, counsellors and others of his true servants, removing the same from all important public employments, so that the whole patronage of the government should go through his own hands, contrary to the laws and statutes of this country....'
'I was the minister of an absolute sovereign,' interposed Goertz. 'How can I be made answerable for the decisions of his iron will?'
'And moreover,' proceeded Hylten, 'such schemes brought to light as could serve no other end than to rob the king's subjects of all their property....'
'The stamped tokens and notes of the mint had already been issued before the time of my administration,' cried Goertz indignantly.
'And finally,' read Hylten, 'according to letters of his, which have been discovered, he has not ceased to labor for the prolongation of the war, thereby placing the king and the country in a very embarrassing and dangerous situation....'
'Who dares assert these lies?' cried Goertz with indignation. 'For fourteen years had Sweden carried on an uninterrupted, and for six years an unsuccessful war, when Charles confided the helm of state to me. Since that time, I have honestly labored to extinguish the fire which destroyed the prosperity of our country. A glorious peace with our most fearful enemy was brought by me near to a conclusion, when the king's sudden death changed....'
'You appear to forget,' said Hylten angrily, 'that you have here only to listen, and not to speak.'
'Then in God's name read to the end,' said Goertz, becoming calm. 'I wilt interrupt you no more.'
'Satisfied of the truth of these charges,' resumed Hylten, 'without examining further into the evil conduct of the said Goertz, a full investigation of which certain causes will not allow, it appears clear to us that he is the dishonest cause of all the misfortunes which this country has suffered, and also that through the above named employments he has become a citizen of this kingdom, and subject to its laws; upon which the royal commission, having weighed these and other crimes, have decided and adjudged, that the said Goertz, for the punishment of his evil deeds, and for an example to other false counsellors and disturbers of the peace of the kingdom, shall be beheaded and afterwards buried at the place of execution.'
'Ha! this sentence....' began Arwed with ungovernable rage, but Rank gently laid his hand upon his mouth.
Goertz had accompanied the close of the reading with only a sigh and shrug of the shoulders. At length he observed, 'that is, in every point of view, a monstrous sentence, informal, unjust, void, and repugnant to common sense. The grounds upon which it is supported are unimportant or untrue; the most unheard of circumstance, however, is, that they take away my life for transgressions which are not specified. From this fault, at least, the legal knowledge of the members of the commission should have preserved them.'
'I am not here to listen to your complaints,' answered Hylten, pettishly. 'The sentence of the commission is unalterable, and will be executed as soon as it is approved by the diet and royal council, and ratified by the queen.'
'So I supposed,' said Goertz; 'and submit to power, which, alas! is every where above right. I only wish to make one remark. They have passed over my management of the national revenue in perfect silence. I beg to be allowed time to prepare my accounts and lay them before the diet, and thus at least inform the world that I have managed the finances like an honest man. Should this request be refused, however, I yet hope at least from the magnanimity of the diet, that they will demand of my heirs no settlement of my accounts, of which they can know nothing.'
'I doubt,' said Hylten with some apparent mortification, 'whether the diet will grant you this delay. I will, however, lay your request before them, and have only to advise you to prepare yourself in the meanwhile for your approaching death.'
'Wo to me,' cried Goertz, 'if my whole life has not been a preparation for death! Yet I thank you for your counsel. My blood be not upon your head!'
Hylten hastened away in confusion, and the weeping Rank threw himself upon the breast of his friend. Arwed fell upon his knee before him, and clasping his hand exclaimed, 'give me Georgina for my wife, my father. She needs strong support in her trying situation, and I feel myself capable of affording it to her.'
'Even now?' cried Goertz, heartily embracing the youth, 'thou true heart! But I must still answer with a decided negative. The only sprout of one of the noblest houses of Sweden must never, under any circumstances, connect himself with the daughter of a condemned and dishonored traitor, whose body must moulder under the gallows.'
His voice was broken by the excess of his feelings. Arwed, despairing, rose up. 'Can I then do nothing for you?' asked Rank, wringing his hands.
'I cannot be saved,' said Goertz, 'and have already been long prepared for death. Only the ignominy of a public execution, and the outrage which awaits my mortal remains, trouble me; not on my own account, but on that of my poor children and innocent connexions. If you are disposed to give me a last proof of your love, you will on my behalf, petition the queen that I may die in my prison and have an honorable grave.'
'I will immediately speak with the prince,' said Rank. 'He was never your enemy. His wife loves him more tenderly than one would suppose her cold heart capable of loving. I hope to be able to render you this service.'--He departed.
'I will throw myself at my father's feet,' cried Arwed, 'and never cease my supplications until he shall promise me to aid in the accomplishment of your last wish.--Oh, my God! that I cannot save you! It is only through this infamous sentence that your purity has become fully clear to me. Your blood be upon the heads of your unworthy murderers.'
He strode forth. Goertz, however, folded his hands, raised his eyes to heaven, and prayed with silent resignation.
Accompanied by the trusty Brodin, on the next day, Arwed stood trembling as with a paroxysm of ague, in the ante-chamber of the hall in which the royal council held its sittings. The chief clerk of the council approached them with a protecting air.
'This is the young man of whom I spoke to you, my worthy friend,' said Brodin to him, at the same time slipping a heavy purse into his hand; 'let me recommend him to your kindness.'
Brodin departed. The chief clerk led Arwed to the door which communicated with the grand saloon, and opened it. 'Between the door and the inner drapery,' said he, 'you can see and hear every thing that takes place, without being observed. But remember my stipulation. Keep yourself quiet, and if you are discovered, recollect that we have never known each other, and that you slipped in here behind my back.'
'How can I possibly involve you in my fate?' answered Arwed, proceeding to conceal himself in the designated lurking place.
'Not yet,' said the chief clerk, pulling him back: 'the lords of the council must first assemble there, and might easily discover you as they pass.'
At that moment the outer folding doors opened, and in their solemn official dresses, in long, red velvet cloaks and red caps of the same material, the loyal counsellors passed in couples through the ante-chamber into the saloon. They were the counts Gyllenstierna, Rhenskioeld, Stromberg, Horn, Cronhielm, Tessin, Meierfed and Moerner, and the barons Duecker, Taube, Sparre, and Banner.
'They are all here to-day for once,' said the chief clerk. 'Count Spens alone is absent. Indeed the business is of too much importance, and they cannot expedite the ex-minister too hastily!'
One of the queen's chamberlains again threw open the doors, and, in full dress, stiff and stately as the image of the virgin in some place of pilgrimage, with a countenance in which deep hatred vainly sought to conceal itself under assumed dignity, the queen passed by them into the hall. Arwed then slipped into his hiding place, and the chief clerk shut the door after him.
After the ceremony of the queen's reception was over, and the members had taken their seats, the governor, baron Taube, took the floor.
'The special royal commission,' said he, 'has sentenced von Goertz to lose his head under the gallows, and there be buried. The diet has, by a majority of voices, concurred in this verdict, and by her majesty's command the royal council is now assembled to decide whether the sentence shall be carried into full effect, or whether Goertz shall have the benefit of some mitigation of its severity.'
'I consider it dangerous to deal so hardly with Goertz,' said count Cronhielm. 'The late king reposed great confidence in him, and I fear that it may injure the Swedish nation abroad, since Goertz has many adherents and a highly respected family.'
'A man who has endeavored to overthrow the whole kingdom,' cried the passionate Horn, 'who has committed the crimes detailed in the report of the commissioners, is not too severely judged. Clemency towards him may seduce many others to enter upon a similar course, to the great injury of the realm. Besides, he has been tried and sentenced by conscientious men, who, if they have done him injustice, must answer it to their God.'
'It is not my wish that he should go unpunished,' answered Cronhielm. 'But it may be well to remember, that the commencement of our political career will be closely scrutinized, and that the manner of the execution may injure us with the nation, and particularly with our nobility. He may be beheaded, but to bury under the gallows a man who has been employed in so many important affairs by our late king, appears to me to be bad policy.'
'Any Swede who may conduct himself as he has,' cried Horn, exasperated, 'may be punished in the same manner.'
'These altercations do not accomplish our object,' remarked Ulrika. 'I desire the lords counsellors to speak in their due order.'
'When I heard the sentence read,' said baron Banner, 'I expected a harder punishment. When, however, I view the question in relation to the general welfare, it appears to me that the end is attained when the criminal is deprived of life. It can in no way concern the public interests whether he be buried under the gallows or not, I consider it a matter of indifference where he lies.'
'That is also our opinion,' said the three other barons and the counts Cronhielm and Meierfeld, simultaneously.
'As he has been judged by so learned and discriminating a commission,' observed count Tessin, 'and as the knighthood and nobility have approved the sentence, it should be carried into full and complete effect. Should I advise any clemency, it must be in harmony with those who have a more minute knowledge of all the individual views presented by the commission, which are said to be very exact and to comprehend the particulars of Goertz' crimes. The Italian proverb indeed says: _Morta la bestia, morto il veneno_--but something is necessary by way of example, that others may be deterred from meddling with the business of state--and I know not but it might be well to think of another expedient, which is often resorted to in other places, viz; the erection of a monument, which shall inform posterity of his conduct and his fate, and which may prove a warning to foreigners not to intrude themselves into this kingdom, exciting its subjects to such violence as he has instigated. Yet I only throw out these ideas for the gracious and favorable consideration of your majesty and your excellencies.'
'I still adhere to the opinion I before advanced,' said count Horn; 'and God knows that I am not influenced by any prejudice. But I am convinced that smaller offences are oftentimes more severely punished. From affection to my native country must I adhere to the sentence.'
'If we examine the circumstances of this case,' remarked count Stromberg deliberately, 'we find them very bad. I am therefore compelled to support the opinion of count Horn.'
'For his pernicious projects,' said count Rhenskioeld, 'Goertz has well deserved the punishment of death. I suggest however for the gracious consideration of your majesty, whether mercy should not be extended to him in consideration of his family.'
'As it appears to me,' said count Gyllenstierna, taking up the argument, 'the present question is only whether the condemned shall be buried under the gallows. That he must die, is already decided by a majority of the voices. Now, the object being accomplished by his death, I see no objection to his being buried any where else, so that his family may be spared too great suffering through such ignominy.'
'He is disgraced sufficiently when he falls under the hands of the executioner,' said the queen in her most scornful tone. 'As for the rest, the diet may do what they please with him.'
'It must be confessed,' said Cronhielm timidly, 'that he was not permitted to exercise the right of defence so fully as the law allows, and that he had not the benefit of legal counsel. Besides, he is a member of the Franconian nobility, who are very jealous of their privileges. They will maintain that the accused could not be legally judged here, and, to avoid irritating them, it appears to me that it would be well not to deal too severely with him.'
'I know nothing to induce me to suppose,' said Horn, 'that Goertz had not the privilege of defending himself.'
'If he had not,' said Tessin, 'he must be allowed a new trial.'
'I call for the votes of the special commission,' said Cronhielm. 'Stiernkrona has explicitly declared it contrary to law and equity to deprive Goertz of the means of defending himself.'
'Let the record of the commission be brought here,' said the queen angrily, to baron Banner. He hastened into the ante-chamber and sent the chief clerk to bring it, while slight hopes were once more raised in the bosom of the listening Arwed. Meanwhile there was a long pause in the council room, during which count Cronhielm was compelled to bear the inconvenient criticisms of his brother counsellors for his last speech.
'As governor of Stockholm,' said Baron Taube, interrupting the general silence, 'it is my duty to inquire how the execution shall be conducted?'
'The conclusion is,' answered the queen impatiently, 'that the governor is to deal with baron von Goertz according to the sentence of the commission, as confirmed by the diet.'
'It is quite superfluous, then,' cried Cronhielm, rising up with feelings of resentment, 'that we should further discuss an affair in relation to which her majesty has already issued her commands.'
'Certainly, wholly superfluous,' said Horn, likewise rising. The others followed his example. The council broke up its sitting without waiting for the record of the commission, and, reverentially conducted by her attendants, the queen, like a thunder cloud which had ignited and exploded with wide spread desolation, proudly moved through the ante-chamber.
'_Stat pro ratione voluntas!_' cried Arwed with suppressed rage. 'Wo to the country where the holy halls of justice can be profaned by such a sentence!'
On the 12th March, all Stockholm was stirring with unusual commotion. The streets leading to the place of execution were thronged with people impelled by strongly excited curiosity. Cavalry and infantry were drawn up before the council house on the Suedermalm, before the principal door of which stood the carriage destined for the conveyance of the baron von Goertz.
Arwed entered Goertz' prison, supporting the faltering steps of Georgina with one arm, whilst with the other hand he led the wailing Magdalena. Lieutenant general Rank was sitting alone in the room, reading a paper which he had taken from among others which lay upon the table.
'Is it you, my good captain?' exclaimed he, taking Arwed's hand. Then, looking at his companions, he sighed, 'Alas! poor, poor, children!'
'Where is my father?' asked Georgina in an almost inaudible tone, sinking down upon a stool.
'In the next room,' answered Rank. 'Conradi is with him.'
'What are you reading there, general?' asked Arwed without interest, merely to break the painful silence.
'The epitaph of our friend,' answered Rank, handing the paper to him. 'He sketched it himself.'
Georgina had sprung from her seat, and hanging upon Arwed's arm, looked with him upon the manuscript.
'Read aloud,' said she. 'Something like a dense cloud waves before my eyes. I cannot see the letters.'
'Will it not prove too great a trial for you?' asked Arwed with tender care.
'I am here,' she answered, 'to take a last leave of my father, before his death by the sword of the executioner. What else can shake me?'
Struggling to suppress his tears, Arwed proceeded to read:
'A la veille de conclure un grand traite de paix, mon héros périt, la royauté avec lui. Dieu veuille qu'il n'arrive pis! Je meurs aussi. C'est toujours mourir en magnifique compagnie, quand on meurt avec son roi et la royauté.'
'Very true!' exclaimed Georgina. 'The ruins of royalty are a worthy mausoleum for the great man; but his children despair.'
'Mors regis, fidesque in regem et ducem, mors mea.'
'That means?' asked Georgina in a faint voice.
'The death of the king and fidelity to him and to the duke are the cause of his death.'
'Alas, how true!' sighed Georgina, and, breaking out in a flood of tears, she sunk upon Arwed's shoulder.
The door of the adjoining room now opened, and Goertz entered with a serene countenance, followed by the weeping Conradi. 'Father!' shrieked his daughters, throwing themselves into his arms.
'My dear children!' cried he, joyfully pressing them to his bosom, and kissing them tenderly.
'If that adamantine heart were here,' said Arwed to Conradi, with deep emotion, 'this scene would yet melt it.'
'I thank God that the queen is not here,' answered the latter. 'She would remain inexorable, and thus aggravate her responsibility in the next world.'
The outer prison door was now opened, and with a brutal air colonel Baumgardt walked into the room. He was followed by chief judge Hylten, who appeared yet more miserable than before, leaning upon his clerk. The outer hall was soon filled with Swedish grenadiers.
'Goertz, your time has come!' cried Baumgardt, roughly.
'In God's name, your blessing, my father!' cried Greorgina, kneeling and drawing Magdalena down with her to his feet.
'Continue good!' cried Goertz in a broken voice, laying his hands upon their heads, 'so that I may give a good account of you to your mother, and that you may say joyfully to your God, when you come after me, Father, here am I, and here are those whom thou hast given me.'
'Amen!' said Conradi, moving towards the door.
'Thanks for your love,' said Goertz, embracing Rank and Arwed, and then turning to follow his spiritual assistant.
'Now let us forth,' cried Georgina wildly, grasping the hands of the youth and of the little Magdalena, 'that we may arrive before him!'
'You cannot support the scene!' said Arwed anxiously to her.
'And should I die in his last moments,' answered Georgina, 'what a happy death!'
Goertz had overheard this conversation, and turned once more towards his daughters. 'You will go hence directly back to your dwelling,' said he earnestly.
'Father!' stammered Georgina, 'shall I not see you once more?'
'It is your father's last command!' cried Goertz. 'Wouldst thou bind my soul to earth, through sorrow for thee, when its wings were already joyfully raised to take its flight to its creator? Take my daughters home, Gyllenstierna!'
'Forward!' growled Baumgardt. 'God bless you, my loves!' cried Goertz with a stronger voice, and followed his guards.
Nine days had passed, since the ground under the Swedish gallows had drunk the blood of the worthy German. The evening was closing in, all the bells of the capital were tolling, and the thunder of cannon was heard from the Ritterholm, in honor of the royal hero who at this hour was committed to the tomb of his fathers. Arwed entered Georgina's room. He found her with Magdalena and her only maid, (whom she still retained,) in their traveling dresses.
'I thank you for coming so punctually,' said Georgina. 'You are now to render me the last service. It is not without danger, but I know you, and therefore demand it without hesitation.'
'Every thing for thee!' cried Arwed passionately.
'Then accompany me,' said she, 'upon my way to the performance of a difficult duty, in which I need a man's aid. Have every thing ready,' said she to her maid servant. 'If heaven favor our attempt, we shall soon return, directly to leave this horrible country!'
She took Arwed's arm and proceeded with him to the bank of the Norderstrom. There a boat was in waiting, in which were Goertz' Holstein servants. The oars moved and the boat soon floated forth upon the peaceful lake. Georgina, wrapped in her cloak, sat upon the deck observing the stars which here and there discovered themselves in the deepening gloom of the evening.
'What project have you in hand, Georgina?' at length asked Arwed anxiously.
'I will now make it known to you,' answered she. 'I am going for my father's corpse. Ungrateful Sweden shall not hold his bones.'
'My God, you risk your life!' cried Arwed with alarm.
'I think not,' she calmly answered. 'Public duty and curiosity have drawn all Stockholm to witness the funeral solemnities of the king, and I hope to find the place deserted. And of what consequence would be my life? I risk it joyfully in the performance of my filial duty! If you fear the service, say where I shall land you.'
'You afflict me undeservedly!' complained Arwed. 'Sooner should the royal council affix my name to the gallows from which you are about to tear its prey, than I would desert your side. Only for you was I anxious. Even if every thing succeed, this undertaking is unsuited to your years and sex.'
'Ah, dear Arwed!' said Georgina, 'I have lived long in a short time, and great afflictions give new strength to the heart. Seek not to dissuade me.'
Both remained silent while the convoy moved rapidly and undisturbedly onward. At length the boat landed, and they got out. Two of the servants drew a litter from beneath the deck, and bore it ashore. The others followed with cords, shovels and pick-axes.
'Remain here,' said Arwed to Georgina. 'I will superintend the labor and spare you at least that pain.'
'No,' answered she, 'it must all be fulfilled. But you may accompany me, that I may have a friend to lean upon if the body should prove weaker than the will.'
The melancholy company moved silently forward through the stillness of the night. At length the gallows arose awfully before them in huge and undefined outline.
'It was here,' whispered one of the servants, stopping.
'Here?' sobbed Georgina, falling down and kissing the holy ground.
'Now to the work, faithful friends,' said she, rising up.
With restless zeal the labor was commenced with pick-axe and shovel, and soon the silver clamps upon the black coffin glistened from the depth. Two of the servants sprang into the grave and made room for themselves on each side until they succeeded in passing the cords under the coffin. It was slowly drawn up and placed upon the litter.
During the time which had thus elapsed, Georgina had stood by with folded hands, engaged in prayer. The litter was quickly raised, and the little train moved silently back to the shore with its sad burden. Georgina followed, requiring all of Arwed's strength to sustain her tottering steps. The coffin was placed in the boat, which immediately put off.
'It is done!' cried Georgina, convulsively clasping Arwed's hand. 'I thank thee.'
'And now?' asked the faithful youth.
'You will soon learn,' answered Georgina, remaining buried in reflection until they landed at the Blasiusholm. A merchant ship lay at anchor near by. The maiden now arose, as in the golden times of her happy love, and throwing her arms about Arwed's neck, pressed her ice-cold lips to his. 'Farewell forever, dear Arwed!' breathed she in a scarcely articulate tone.
'What say you?' cried Arwed in alarm, encircling her with his arms.
'It cannot be otherwise,' answered she, extricating herself from his embrace. 'This ship takes me and my father's corpse to Hamburg.'
'Not without me, faithless one!' angrily exclaimed Arwed. 'Fly to the new world--fly from life, if you will--and still I will accompany you!'
'Let us not revive our former sad strife,' said she sorrowfully. 'I must not become yours. You may pain me, but you cannot shake my determination, which is as unmovable as are my misfortunes.'
'Georgina!' implored Arwed, clasping her knees. 'You have always conducted towards me with such a knightly delicacy, my Arwed,' said Georgina, laying her cold hand upon his heated brow, 'that I may safely compare you with any of the lofty exemplars of former times. My love for you is, indeed, yet stronger than in the moments of its first confession,--but the blot which rests upon my name forbids my uniting myself with the son of him who sentenced my innocent father to a criminal's death. Believe me, even were I weak enough to yield to your request, we could not be happy together. The remembrance of all that has occurred would, like a fearful spectre, stand between us, and self-contempt would follow me even to your arms. Now, the consciousness of having offered up my love upon the altar of duty, will raise me above myself and give me strength worthily to bear the afflictions laid upon me by my God. Wherefore, my friend, I demand of you our separation as your last love-service, and a true knight must obey his mistress, when with tearful eyes and broken accents she says to him, _Let us part!_'
'I go!' exclaimed Arwed, clasping Georgina once more to his bosom and to his lips, and rushing forth.
'That was the death of the heart!' cried the unhappy maiden, pressing her clasped hands upon her bosom.--' What may hereafter come is not worth consideration. Let me but satisfy the world of my father's innocence, just God, and then take me to thyself and to him in thy heavenly kingdom.'
The next morning, as lieutenant general Rank was mounting the steps to Arwed's quarters, the latter, coming furiously out, rushed directly against him.
'Whither so hasty, my good Gyllenstierna?' cried Rank, grasping his arm. 'I was coming to seek you, and have something of importance to say.'
'And I have something of yet greater importance to do, sir general,' answered Arwed in a singular tone. 'I shall take upon myself to act as a lawyer, and talk to the judges about a second appeal.'
'I fear you are planning some evil, and shall not suffer you to go out!' cried Rank, dragging the youth entirely up the steps. When they had reached his room he gave him a searching look. From Arwed's pale countenance, wild glaring eyes and disordered dress, it was evident that he had not been in bed the preceding night, and the handles of a pair of pistols were seen projecting from the bosom of his coat.
'Young man, what do you intend?' asked Rank. 'I have become your friend, and cannot allow you to make yourself unhappy.'
'The injustice,' answered Arwed, 'which conducted Goertz to the scaffold, has robbed me of all the happiness of my existence. Georgina has rejected me and bidden an eternal farewell to Sweden. I will now devote the rest of my miserable life to some useful purpose, and assume the office of Nemesis. The judges who condemned the innocent, shall answer it to me before the mouth of my pistol or the point of my sword, and with their worthy president will I make a beginning!'
'Calm yourself,' said Rank. Count Ribbing cannot be called to account by you.'
'He shall, he must!' cried Arwed, with flashing eyes. 'The wretch, by signing the sentence, has declared that Goertz had lived dishonorably and should therefore die ignominiously! It will be honor enough for him to die as a cavalier by the hands of an honorable man!'
'He can no longer be held answerable to you,' repeated Rank. 'He is dead!'
'Dead!' reiterated Arwed, shuddering.
'Even before the execution of Goertz, was he attacked by apoplexy,' pursued Rank, 'and instantly expired. His death was for a time kept a secret from the people, who might have drawn various sinister conclusions from the occurrence, but I cannot understand how you could have remained so long ignorant of it.'
'I have paid no attention to the news of the capital during the last week,' answered Arwed in a low tone of voice. 'Dead! The executioner gone before the victim! I am sorry for it. I will then seek the public prosecutor, and thank him for the gratitude he evinced towards his patron.'
'Would you contend with a cripple? Fehmann also has been smitten. He now lies very low, and, if he ever recover, he will, nevertheless, remain a maimed man the remainder of his life. The living body of the wretched Hylten is daily consumed by worms, and doctor Molin has fallen backwards from his seat and broken his neck.'
'And thus all the ringleaders escape me!' cried Arwed, stamping with his foot. 'Stiernkrona is innocent, and the rest were little more than miserable tools.'
'You see, my young friend,' said Rank, seizing Arwed's hand, 'that God himself will fulfill the duties of judge in this case. Assume not the office of avenger with bold presumption!'
'Only one of them now remains,' cried Arwed fiercely; 'but he shall not escape me!'
'Whom do you mean?' anxiously asked Rank.
'Colonel Baumgardt,' answered Arwed, 'who arrested the martyr, in obedience to the commands of a man who at that time had no authority to issue such an order. Had it not been for his shameful readiness on that occasion, the noble blood of Goertz would not have flowed.'
'You are right, but I warn you,' said Rank. 'Directly by means of that arrest has Baumgardt acquired great favor with the queen. A challenge upon that ground would not be accepted by him, and would bring you to a prison.'
'I thank you for the warning,' answered Arwed. 'But fortunately the colonel has injured me personally, and is therefore prepared to receive a challenge from me.'
'If that be the case,' said Rank, 'and you are not provided with a second, I offer you my services in that capacity.'
'You, general!' cried Arwed with astonishment.
'I am your friend,' said Rank, 'and will openly prove it, and at the same time abjure my political faith. Let it be considered as settled. Before the duel, however, I advise you to resign your commission. Indeed it was for that purpose I came to seek you. You have made many and powerful enemies. Nothing but your father's power and influence has hitherto preserved you, and even he is angry with you now. If he also should give you up, you would be lost without redemption.'
'Only he who gives himself up, is lost,' said Arwed. 'Yet will I follow your good counsel. Under the present circumstances there is no longer honor nor pleasure for me in the Swedish service.'
'It is unfortunate for you, Gyllenstierna,' cried Rank dejectedly. You have in you the metal for a Horn or a Torstenson, and it is to be regretted that your talents cannot be devoted to the service of your country. Whenever you need my services in your proposed affair, you know where to find me.'
He took his leave, and Arwed accompanied him to the door. On his return he passed a mirror, and the reflection of his disordered figure caught his attention.
'I look as bad,' cried he, 'as a highway robber, going forth in pursuit of his prey. This is not as it should be. Even the just anger of an honorable man should not wear this appearance. Stern business should be sternly executed; but with a due regard to outward appearances, so that the wretch whom I am about to punish may not be able to complain that I have neglected what good manners prescribe.'
He drew the pistols from his bosom, and laid them aside. Then ringing for his servant, he dressed himself with unusual care. The rich gala uniform contrasted strangely and frightfully with the suppressed anger upon his beautiful pale face. He buckled on his sword again, and proceeded to the Ritterholm in search of his antagonist.
The parade before the palace had commenced. The troops were already marched to the square, and the officers were walking to and fro in masses, or conversing together in isolated groups. 'Have you heard of it?' asked adjutant Kolbert, slopping up to Arwed; Baumgardt has become a major general, and had conferred upon him the order of the seraphim. It will be announced to-day in general orders.'
'There he comes already,' scoffingly observed count Posse, who had joined the group; 'and his face shines as did that of Moses when he retired from the presence of the Most Holy.'
'I am glad of it,' said Arwed, 'I shall have an opportunity to congratulate him upon the spot.'
Meanwhile Baumgardt had descended the palace steps with a stately air, and now approached them. Already, at a distance, glistened the star and band upon his breast, and with proud condescension he bowed right and left to the subaltern officers who gathered round for the purpose of congratulating him.
With firm and rapid strides Arwed stepped directly in front of the fortunate man. The latter was somewhat surprised when he recognised him, and turned pale upon observing the frightful earnestness expressed by his features. 'I must most respectfully request a short conversation with you, sir major general,' said Arwed very courteously. 'You will have the goodness to remember that I reserved this claim when we separated at Amal.'
'I know not....' stammered Baumgardt, in the embarrassment of his surprise.
'You allowed yourself,' proceeded Arwed, 'in the parsonage at Tanum and in the camp before Frederickshall, to use certain expressions injurious to my honor, and my situation now for the first time allows me to ask an explanation of them.'
'Whatever I may have said,' answered Baumgardt sullenly, 'was in the discharge of my official duty, and therefore I am not to be called to account for it by any person.'
'According to my view,' said Arwed coolly, 'on that occasion you overstepped the bounds of your duty. You will therefore have the goodness to give me the satisfaction due to a man of honor.'
'I do not know,' answered Baumgardt, 'whether I as a general am bound to fight with a captain.'
'But as a cavalier you dare not refuse satisfaction to the count Gyllenstierna,' cried Arwed warmly. 'If, however, you have any doubts upon that point, the corps of officers at the capitol may decide the matter.'
'I doubt only,' said Baumgardt scornfully, 'whether you can find any one willing to act as your second in so extraordinary an affair, in which I see only the quixotism of youth, which I am willing to pardon.'
'I have consented to act as the count's second,' said Rank, who had just joined them.
'Your excellency!' exclaimed Baumgardt with surprise. 'That is indeed quite another affair. I fight with pistols, and fire advancing,' said he to Arwed, after a moment's reflection.
'The choice was yours,' answered Arwed, bowing. 'I thank you for meeting my wishes in this manner. When shall it be?'
'To-morrow morning at ten o'clock, upon the Peckholm, opposite the park,' answered Baumgardt, gloomily.
'I shall have the honor to await you there,' said Arwed, with a very low bow, and turned upon his heel.
The next morning Arwed was walking silently up and down the banks of the Peckholm with lieutenant general Rank, awaiting the arrival of the boat which was to bring his adversary. Arwed's pistols with their apparatus were lying upon his cloak, which was spread out under a tall pine tree.
'You are so tranquil, my friend!' said Rank, breaking the long silence; 'indeed, the moments passed in awaiting a duel are most intolerable. I know it by my own experience. Perhaps you begin to regret your proceeding? It is not to be doubted that the pistol shot which you are about to exchange will be the burial salute of your happiness in this kingdom--for the queen will never pardon you. Therefore, if your resolution has become somewhat weaker, it is yet time. Major general Baumgardt is too happy with his new promotion and his new orders, not to wish to wear his honors some years yet, and will very willingly agree to any other reparation.'
'No, general,' answered Arwed; 'God forbid that I should meanly convert an honorable combat into a piece of buffoonery. A reconciliation between a challenge and a duel, I have always deemed a contemptible proceeding. It was the firmness, even, of my resolution, that made me still, as it places me near the gates of death, which to me is a consideration of great solemnity, and as I shall contend for the innocence of our friend before the eyes of all Europe.'
'Brave youth!' cried Rank, embracing him with much emotion. 'In heaven's name fight. If you fall, I will revenge your death as a good second should.'
At this moment the clock of St. Katharine's tower struck ten, and directly afterwards Baumgardt's boat landed through the splashing waves of the lake. In company with another officer he jumped ashore, and gave a coldly polite greeting to those who had been waiting his arrival. With silent activity the two assistants placed the barriers, and, thrusting their swords into the ground some distance apart, stretched a cord from one to the other.
'How many paces, general?' asked Rank, stepping midway of the cord.
'Twenty!' answered Baumgardt morosely.
'That is a great distance!' calmly remarked Arwed, and each measured twenty paces from the cord and marked the points.
'Here, Gyllenstierna!' cried Rank, and Arwed took his place, whilst Baumgardt stepped to the opposite point, which his second had marked. Both stood eyeing each other with folded arms. The weapons were not yet placed in their hands, but the glances of hatred exchanged were more deadly than the bullets.
The seconds had loaded the pistols, and the combatants now received them from their hands. 'Let him prevail who has the right!' whispered Rank to Arwed, stepping aside.
'It is yet proper to ask,' said Baumgardt's second, 'whether this affair may not be arranged in some other way?'
'In no other possible way!' cried Arwed. 'In this the major general will certainly agree with me.'
'In no other way!' muttered the general. His second then left his side, and the two combatants began slowly advancing, and with each step mentally measuring the distance which divided them from each other. They had advanced scarcely five steps, when with Baumgardt the fear of death prevailing, and with Arwed his eagerness for the fight conquering all prudence and discretion, they both fired almost at the same moment. Arwed's ball struck Baumgardt's hat from his head, and his opponent's grazed Arwed's left arm. But the latter, throwing away the discharged pistol, and taking the loaded one in his right hand, cautiously advanced.
Baumgardt followed his example, and advanced with a pale face, blue lips and bristling hair. While Arwed was observing the alteration which extreme anxiety caused in the countenance of his adversary, the latter elevated his weapon and continued slowly to approach, with his eye intently fixed upon Arwed's breast. Then swelled Arwed's heart, and the thirst for blood which now sparkled in Baumgardt's eyes, reminded him of the fiendlike expression of his face on the morning of the execution of Goertz.
'Your time has come! Forward!' cried the youth, in the same words Baumgardt had used on that occasion, raising his arm at the same moment. With sudden terror Baumgardt fired and missed--whilst his arm, struck and shattered by Arwed's ball, fell helplessly by his side.
'My God!' cried his second, springing to his side, and supporting the fainting man.
'My arm is gone!' said Baumgardt, grating his teeth and sinking upon the grass over which his blood was streaming. 'I am an invalid for life. Why could not the booby's bullet have struck my heart or head, and so have ended the matter at once!'
Arwed now approached his adversary with Rank, who had bound a handkerchief upon his bleeding arm.
'I am sorry, general,' said he, kindly, 'and my anger vanishes with your running blood. May this misfortune awaken in you a true and heartfelt repentance for what you have done. I am appeased,--make your peace with God!'
'What are you chattering there?' cried Rank indignantly, whilst Baumgardt scornfully rejected Arwed's proffered hand.
'Take my hand,' said Arwed; 'it is the hand of reconciliation. Imagine that it is offered to you by the innocent Goertz, whom your conduct led to the scaffold.'
'Did not I tell you,' cried Baumgardt to his second, 'that this senseless quarrel had a political origin? You will be a witness for me with her majesty.'
Overcome by pain, he fell back powerless.
'Your thoughtless words will cost you your head,' said Rank, hastily dragging the youth with him down to the shore.
Arwed was sitting in his quarters, and his regimental surgeon had just finished bandaging the wound in his arm, when old Brodin entered in great perplexity.
'His excellency, your father,' whispered he, 'desires to speak with you alone. He will be here directly.'
'It will not be a very pleasant interview,' sighed Arwed, motioning the surgeon to absent himself.
'You are not far out of the way,' said Brodin, after the surgeon had retired. 'His excellency is very angry with you. I have, therefore, hastened here before him to prepare you for his visit and to beg of you, as an old, true and zealous servant of your house--if the anger of the old gentleman should carry him too far, that you will still remember that he is your father, and listen to what he may please to say to you, not as a captain of the guards, but as a son.'
'I thank you for the warning, worthy friend, and will obey you,' answered Arwed.
The door now opened, and with a flaming, red face, the old counsellor entered.
'The old tell-tale already here,' cried he, 'plotting with the lost son? I would be alone with the captain.'
Brodin made a submissive, exculpatory gesture, whereby he at the same time seemed to beg permission to remain--but the old man pointed angrily towards the door, and Brodin unwillingly retired.
'So, you have fought to-day with major general Baumgardt?' asked the father with assumed calmness.
'Yes,' answered the son, 'but without any important consequences. I am but slightly injured, and his life is also out of danger.'
'Right!' cried the father, with somewhat increasing vehemence. 'So the trifle of rendering a general, who is particularly valued by the queen, a cripple for life, is a mere ordinary affair.'
He walked two or three times up and down the room, and then opened a window and looked out. After a while he turned again towards Arwed.
'God is my witness,' cried he, shutting the window with great violence, 'God is my witness, that I have been forbearing as an angel, but your conduct would make an Epictetus furious. To challenge the major general just at the moment when the queen, by promotion and knighthood, had declared him her favorite--to shatter his arm, and then confidentially to tell him that it was on account of his arresting Goertz, to which arrest Ulrika is probably indebted for her crown! Would it indeed be possible, by the widest stretch of fancy, to imagine a proceeding more senseless and ruinous than yours?'
'The party spirit,' answered Arwed, 'which divides our country, early teaches every Swede to choose his side; and, in a land so disturbed by political storms, a peculiar disgrace seems to rest upon neutrality. Blame me not then, my dear father, if I also have formed my principles; and be not angry because they are not exactly like yours. If you have nothing to pardon me for, except that, having once chosen my party, I have remained true to it in every emergency, that circumstance should, as I think, honor me in your eyes.'
'_Honor!_' cried the counsellor angrily. '_You_ dare to talk of honor, _you!_'
'What mean you by that? 'asked Arwed with vehemence.
'Where were you on the evening of the king's funeral solemnities?' thundered the father.
'With Georgina,' answered he, not without great astonishment at the question.
'The body of Goertz,' said the counsellor, with fierce energy, 'was on that very night stolen from the place of execution. You, perhaps, can tell how it happened.'
'I find it very natural,' answered Arwed, 'that those who loved the unhappy man, and are firmly convinced of the injustice of his condemnation, should, at least, have borne off his remains from the unworthy resting place in which he was left by the malice of his enemies.'
'And if,' proceeded the counsellor, in a slow, cutting tone, 'if a Swedish officer had commanded this nocturnal expedition, what fate do you think would await him under the present government?'
Arwed, by this question, perceiving with a secret shudder that his father knew all, remained silent.
'Dishonorable dismission!' sternly exclaimed the counsellor; 'and possibly, as an especial mercy, imprisonment for life!'
'If the senate require only my confession to enable it to pass the sentence,' cried Arwed with violence, 'you may be the bearer of that confession to it. I am too proud to deny what my heart impelled me to do.'
The father stood a long time looking at his son with powerful emotion. 'Yes!' he finally broke forth, 'yes, you are a Gyllenstierna! With our failings you unite all the virtues of our family. Holding fast that which has been once chosen--noble even in our errors--so were we always. And so much the deeper is my regret that so many good qualities must be forever lost to the country.'
'From these expressions,' said Arwed, 'I must infer that you bring me already the decision of my fate. If so, speak it without hesitation. I am prepared to receive it.'
'The queen was beside herself,' answered the counsellor, 'when she heard of your last misdeed; and had she obeyed the first suggestions of her rage, you would now have been in chains, awaiting a decision involving life or death.'
'Little souls are generally cruel,' observed Arwed.
'As a father I pleaded for my disobedient son,' continued the counsellor; 'and it is not strange that the man, whose duty it will be to place the crown upon Ulrika's head at Upsala, should not plead entirely in vain. A full pardon was not, indeed, to be thought of. Yet have I succeeded so far in the business, that she has left the designation of your punishment to her husband. To him I shall now lead you; and what he thinks proper to inflict, must be received by you with humility and thankfulness.'
'If consistent with honor,' answered Arwed, taking his hat; 'otherwise I shall demand a court martial.'
They went forth together. In the entrance-hall they were joined by two officers of the guards, who, with them, entered a carriage which was waiting at the door. They soon arrived at the palace upon the Ritterholm. The two Gyllenstiernas, with their companions, ascended the steps to the apartments of the prince of Hesse, who came forward to meet them with a sealed paper in his hand. Only lieutenant general Rank was with him, who gave an encouraging wink to Arwed.
'You have deeply erred, captain Gyllenstierna,' said the prince, earnestly. 'The severe letter of the law must inevitably crush you, were not the hand of mercy interposed. But my wife wishes to convince the nobles of the land that her royal heart gladly inclines to mercy, willingly pardoning when it is in her power to do so, and she also wishes to evince her respect for your worthy father, by even undeserved kindness towards his son. Yet must you be informed, that a man who has declared open war against the state through his audacious acts, cannot remain in his country's service, and that the government must be secured from any repetition of his offences. Therefore receive from me your dismission from the Swedish army. You may thank your heroism before Frederickshall, and the distinction of which my royal brother-in-law thought you worthy, that this dismissal is united with the title of major, which you will henceforth be entitled to bear. Yet your crime must not go entirely unpunished. Wherefore the queen banishes you forever from the limits of the capital, and exacts from you a promise that you will never pass the frontier of the nation, and that you will never again meddle with the political affairs of this kingdom, under pain of death. Your father will receive your promise, and will determine your future place of residence. May time make you wiser!'
Handing to the youth the paper containing his discharge from the service, he departed and was followed by Rank. 'God bless your royal highness!' cried the elder Gyllenstierna after him.
'So, I am a prisoner of state in Sweden,' said Arwed with a bitter smile. 'It is fortunate that my prison is tolerably spacious. Where is it your pleasure that I shall go, my father?'
'To Gyllensten, to my brother,' answered the counsellor, 'after you have signed the required promise, which I must return to her majesty.'
He pointed to a paper lying upon the marble table. Arwed hastily run his eye through the written promise, and subscribed his name to it; upon which the two officers, who had hitherto guarded the door, immediately left the room.
'To Gyllensten!' exclaimed Arwed, gratefully kissing his father's hand, 'to the loved resort of my childhood, to my good old-uncle! How good you still are, my father, even when you punish. How deeply do I regret that I have caused you so much sorrow.'
'You bad boy!' cried the father with strong emotion, pressing him to his bosom. 'And if I pardon you every thing else, I will not pardon you for depriving yourself of the power of serving your father-land, whose golden age is just commencing.'
'May heaven grant,' answered Arwed, 'that Sweden may not soon wish back the departed _iron_ age! I shall always think that the strong will of one only ruler can direct the government more consistently and happily, than the constantly divided opinions of the four and twenty little kings who are now to rule the country, even though you yourself are one of these kings, my father.'
'Silence! you are incorrigible!' cried the old counsellor, drawing his son with him out of the palace.
A TALE OF THE EARLY PART OF THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY.
BY C. F. VAN DER VELDE.
Directly northward, by the west coast of the gulf of Bothnia, through Gestrikland, Helsingland, Medelpat, and Angermannland, Arwed rapidly pursued his expiatory journey, until he reached the southern boundary of the province of West Bothnia, in which Nicodemus, count Gyllenstierna, the counsellor's elder brother, presided as governor. On arriving at the broad river Umea, which here empties its floods into the gulf of Bothnia, Arwed reined in his horse, and, while his groom made a signal for the ferry-boat stationed on the opposite side, reviewed the scenery which had always remained impressed upon his memory, and which now called up a thousand reminiscences of his early childhood. To the right, on the sea-shore, and at the mouth of the broad stream, lay the capital of the poor, depopulated province, the little town of Umea, to which only its harbor with its clustering masts, gave any importance. To the left arose the lofty Gyllensten, the old ancestral castle of the house of Gyllenstierna throned proudly upon its massive rocks, and bordered by a forest of dark pines. The broad plain which intervened between the higher elevations and the river, exhibited evidence of unusual fruitfulness for these northern regions. The magnificent, clear, blue arch, which, in the west rested upon Lapland's distant snow-clad mountains, and in the east upon the dark mirror of the sea, completed the picture which nature, rich even in her poverty and gorgeous in her simplicity, offered to the eye of the observer.
'My fatherland is every where beautiful!' exclaimed he with emotion; 'and this solitary nook, how well suited to my feelings! Yes, I feel that here I can again be happy!'
The ferry-boat came, and Arwed sprang upon the floating bridge. The groom carefully led up the spirited horses, which were somewhat frightened, and made a vigorous resistance when they heard the hollow sound of their footsteps upon the boards. Arwed seized the bridle of his gallant steed, caressed him into a state of quietude, and leaning upon the glossy neck of the animal, extended his view over the waves of the stream upon which the boat was now moving to Gyllensten, whose old, gothic walls and towers were every moment more and more distinctly seen between the lofty pines and rocks in the intermediate distance.
'That is the balcony,' said he to Knut, the faithful old boatman, 'from which I and my little cousin Christine used formerly to watch the ships as they entered the port. The child will be much pleased to see me again. She was always very much attached to me.'
'The _child_!' exclaimed Knut laughing. 'She was at that time eight years old, as well as yourself, major. Eleven years have passed since then. Do you think that you alone have increased in stature during that long period? The child must have become a stately young lady.'
'You are right,' said Arwed with a melancholy smile, 'I have experienced so many vicissitudes lately, that my computation of time is a little disturbed.'
Leaning his head upon his arm, and resting the latter upon his horse's saddle, he sank into a profound reverie. 'I shall find a grown up daughter in my uncle's house,' said he to himself. 'Possibly a right beauteous maiden, with whom my near relationship must bring me into familiar intercourse. Did this really enter into my father's plans? Did he hope that I should here sever old ties and form new ones? If so, he has deceived himself! But one Georgina blooms for me in this world! while she lives, lives also my hope, and the mere remembrance of her is sufficient to steel my heart against the attractions of all the women upon earth.'
The sudden shock with which the boat struck the shore aroused the youth from his contemplations. He threw himself upon his horse and briskly trotted towards Gyllensten. When he had reached its base, and was slowly riding up the steep and rocky ascent, a little flag, displaying the golden star, the escutcheon of Gyllenstierna, suddenly waved from the pinnacle of the tower. Two falconets then exploded so briskly to the right and left from the walls, that his horse made three powerful leaps; and a flourish of trumpets and kettle drums followed.
'Is it possible that this can be intended for me?'--and putting his horse to a quick gallop, he soon sprang through the high gothic arched gateway into the court of the castle. Again was heard a merry trumpet blast, a window of the castle hall was opened, and a massive silver goblet was extended towards the new comer by the old governor.
'Welcome, brave Swede!' cried he joyously to the guest below; 'welcome to Gyllensten! Down from your horse and come up and pledge me in the hall of our forefathers!'
Arwed, obeying, soon entered the long, high-vaulted, echoing knight's hall, in whose niches on either side of the worthy old Gyllenstierna, stood colossal statues, in complete armor chased in copper. The shining metal reflected upon him the last rays of the setting sun so brightly, that he was compelled to protect his eyes with his hand from their blinding red brilliancy.
Meanwhile the uncle, who Was afflicted with the gout, had trundled his movable chair toward his nephew. 'Aha!' exclaimed he, laughing, 'the old lords shine a brilliant greeting upon thee, as they should upon so worthy a descendant of their house. So is it also my duty to do; and if I do not perform it with quite so much grace, the fault must be attributed to this rascally gout, which rages in my bones as if the whole Russian army were marauding there.'
Arwed, kissing the old count's hand, protested against all ceremony; the latter, however, would not be persuaded, but slowly raised himself from his chair, suppressing the pain it gave him, until he stood upright before his nephew. His purple velvet cap, from under which his thin white locks escaped, his sharply delineated, intelligent, good humored, and withal bold face, which the lines of age and experience had but ennobled, his tall and powerful frame, set off with an ermine-lined green hunting dress, altogether gave him the appearance of one of the old Norman princes of long forgotten times, and Arwed involuntarily started back before the noble figure.
'My dear nephew!' said the old man with his deep and thrilling voice, and holding aloft the silver goblet with solemn dignity, 'once again I welcome thee to the castle of our ancestors, and from this goblet I drink to thy welfare and to our common lineage.'
He drank, and then handed the goblet to the youth, who, after draining it, tenderly embraced his worthy uncle. Sinking back into his chair, the old man pointed to the window, where stood a table replenished with wine and drinking cups.
Arwed wheeled him to it, and, sitting down, filled his goblet afresh.
'Now, what news do you bring, captain?' asked the uncle with a hearty shake of the hand; 'or perhaps a yet higher title--hey?'
'I am dismissed, with the rank of major,' answered Arwed, with a slight shrug of the shoulders.
'I understand,' cried the uncle. 'Punishment and reward, wound and balsam, all in a breath. One may see by this, that a woman governs in Sweden. She holds to the doctrine according to the excellent German proverb, of washing the fur without wetting it. With Charles XII you would not have escaped so easily! All that has occurred redounds to your credit, and the 'out of service,' attached to your rank of major, is as honorable to you as would be the order of the seraphim.'
'Where is cousin Christine?' asked Arwed, to interrupt his uncle's praises, which covered his cheeks with blushes.
'She rode out to meet you,' answered the old man, 'I should have accompanied her, but my gouty feet forbade it. The king's death and my anxiety for its consequences, have so pulled me down that I came this time very near going, and shall never entirely recover from the shock. I cannot imagine how the maiden could have missed you.'
'May she not have met with some accident?' cried Arwed apprehensively. 'I will mount my horse again and seek her.'
'Do not trouble yourself,' said his uncle smilingly, and holding him back. 'She is no timid maiden, who needs protection. She is a virago, who can take care of herself in every exigence. Beasts of prey and robbers fear her, not she them. Besides, she is not alone. A military comrade of your's accompanies her.'
'A military comrade of mine?' asked Arwed with astonishment. 'Who can it be?'
'That I may the better enjoy your surprise, I shall not name him to you. He is a good soldier,--so much I will say for him,--and especially valued by me as a witness of the heroism of our king. We made his acquaintance when I was at the coronation at Upsala with Christine. Appearing to feel an interest for the maiden, he has availed himself of the short truce to obtain a furlough, and will spend some weeks with us. You will be much pleased to meet him. He speaks of you with great respect, and has related to us your warlike deeds in so vivid a manner that we feel as though we had been present during their performance.'
'Singular!' said Arwed,--and at that moment the rapid footsteps of a horse resounded in the court. He hastened to the window. A slender maiden, almost as tall as Arwed himself, in a dark green riding-habit, her face partly concealed by a plumed casque, was just then reining in her foaming courser.
'Send to the wolf den in the cluster of fir-trees to the left of the road, and bring the venison which lies there,' said she to the groom who was running to meet her; then, throwing herself from the saddle with the grace of a riding-master, and with her hand wafting a greeting up to the windows of the hall, she hastened into the castle.
'You will hardly recognise the girl,' said the uncle. 'She has much changed, and not altogether according to my wishes. Men are incapable of rearing and educating women properly, as I have learned too late.'
The amazon now entered the hall. The removal of her casque, which she held in her hand, permitted a full view of a blooming face of classic beauty, which her rich golden locks surrounded like a glory. A bold spirit flashed from her magnificent blue eyes, and her cheeks glowed with the heat of violent exercise.
Without noticing Arwed she strode hastily past him, and, precipitating herself upon her father's bosom, impetuously embraced him.
'Madcap girl!' said the latter with evident pleasure, to his beautiful and lively daughter; 'do you not see who is with me in the hall?'
She drew up her beautiful form to its full height, and measured the youth with a searching glance, in which no expression, other than that of maiden pride, accompanied by a slight appearance of displeasure, was discoverable, and Arwed looked in vain for that joy with which he had expected to be received by his little cousin Christine.
'Is not this the guest whom you have been expecting, my father?' she asked, after a long pause,--and, as her father nodded assent, she turned to Arwed, saying with great coldness, 'I am happy to see you at Gyllensten, captain.'
'Shame upon you, Christine!' said the old man, angrily. 'Is that a reception for so near a kinsman, or for the playmate of your childhood? Fall directly upon his neck, give him a hearty kiss, and say, welcome cousin Arwed!'
The beauteous prude started back with a sinister expression, and, spoiled by indulgence, she suffered it to be plainly seen that she had no desire to obey the parental command.
'Do not annoy my cousin, uncle,' said Arwed, offended by her uncourteous manners. 'Christine may already have seen many fops who have availed themselves of their relationship to intrude upon ladies. Since I have not the honor to be known to her, I cannot blame her for thus taking care to insure herself against so disagreeable an occurrence at the outset.'
Christine tossed her head and bit her lips.
'You have deserved this,' said her father, 'and may congratulate yourself that your cousin has let you off with so mild a punishment. Tell us now how it was you failed to encounter him on his way to the castle.'
'We saw a wolf in a thicket,' answered Christine, 'and I could not deny myself the pleasure of hunting him.'
'Only two of you--without hounds?' said the father with asperity. 'That was another of those hazardous undertakings to which you have accustomed me.'
'He appeared to be hungry and made a stand,' said Christine, by way of excuse. 'My saddle pistols were ready loaded, and I hit him directly in the head.'
'You know I do not like these Nimrod tricks,' murmured the old man. 'Why hazard your life in a contest with such an animal?'
'What would life be, father,' cried Christine with thoughtless levity, 'if one never dared gaily and joyfully to hazard it?'
'I would willingly hear such a sentiment from Arwed,' answered her father, shaking his head; 'but it does not sound well from your lips. What has become of your companion?'
'On our way back, he offered me a wager,' said Christine, laughing, 'as to which of us would be first at Gyllensten; I gave my horse a loose rein, and have not seen the good colonel since.'
'You ought to have been a Cossack,' said the old man chidingly; and at that moment a Swedish officer entered the now darkening hall.
'Megret!' exclaimed Arwed with amazement.
'You have lost, colonel!' cried Christine, to the new comer.
'A second Thalestris,' answered Megret, gallantly kissing her hand. 'I yield myself in disgrace to your mercy. Once have I ridden with you upon a wager, but never will I again! Though, at all events, I know how to ride, I have never yet learned to fly.'
'I have the pleasure to present my nephew to you, colonel,' said the governor, interrupting them.
'What a happy encounter!' said Megret, pretending to derive much pleasure from the meeting, and embracing the youth. 'How delightful it is to me, to greet my dear brother in arms, in a kinsman of this dear family!'
A sensation of the deepest disgust oppressed Arwed's bosom at the embrace of the insincere and suspected man. He could not so far control himself as to repay the dissembler in the same coin, and only answered with a silent bow.
'As we shall probably have the pleasure of seeing you here for a long time, my worthy friend,' said Megret, jestingly, and familiarly pointing to Christine, 'you will consider it the friendly service of a true knight when I warn you against this lady.'
'How so?' asked Arwed, and Christine satirically added, 'the colonel probably wishes to inform you, how inexhaustible is his fund of sweet phrases, which mean nothing and which he himself does not believe.'
'How beautiful she is,' continued Megret gaily, 'I need not remark to a blooming youth like you. Her mind, nourished by the manna of the old classics, is a giant that would find its pleasure in storming heaven, and yet she does not lack the graces. Whenever she is in the humor to be amiable, she is irresistible. In short she has every quality requisite to set a man's heart in a flame, and yet I advise every brave man to guard against her, watchfully, as against something which is at the same time the most beautiful and dangerous in all the three kingdoms of nature,--for one all-important quality she lacks!'
'Now this is enough!' suddenly exclaimed Christine, in a tone of great irritation.
'She lacks a heart!' continued Megret, laughing and without suffering himself to be interrupted. 'She can only _wound_, not _heal_. She is a female Charles the XIIth. She holds the amiable weakness of loving in utter detestation, and if Hymen does not perform a miracle upon her, the epitaph must some day be inscribed upon her grave-stone, which England's Elizabeth desired for herself--Here rests the virgin....'
'Shameful!' exclaimed Christine in anger, and striking a heavy blow upon Megret's cheek, the amazon disappeared.
'The girl is mad!' exclaimed the governor. 'Excuse the impropriety, colonel; you shall receive full satisfaction.'
'Never mind, governor,' answered Megret with a courtly smile and rubbing his cheek. 'A cavalier must be content to receive the like from a lady's hand. I shall occasionally take opportunities to revenge myself upon the little savage.'
'The table is served,' announced the steward, and two huntsmen placed themselves behind the wheeled chair of the lord of the castle. 'Follow me, dear gentlemen and friends,' cried the old man, and then, commanding his men to move him forward, he led the way to the dining room.
Megret, however, remained behind, still rubbing his flaming cheek, and conceitedly smiling at his own reflections.
'I am glad you take the ill-behaviour of my cousin so lightly,' said Arwed; 'but I wonder at it, almost as much as at the blow itself, struck so suddenly, and without sufficient cause.'
'It is even that,' said Megret, interrupting him, 'which makes me so tolerant. An entirely indifferent person would not have caused so violent, a passion. A girl like her must be allowed to behave somewhat rudely when she is angry. That is perfectly as it should be. If she supposed that my penetration had discovered her feelings, my jest must have been considered by her as a bitter mockery. Under these circumstances I take the angry blow as a declaration according to the custom of the country, and have only to regret that the ladies of the north have such heavy hands.'
He proceeded towards the dining-room. 'Happy self-conceit!' cried Arwed, following him; 'to what may not thy genius give a favorable construction!'
In the dining room, innumerable dishes were already smoking upon the supper table as Megret and Arwed entered; yet the governor was sitting at the sideboard, in accordance with an old Norman custom, amusing himself with the favorite Swedish preliminary to a good meal, knakebrod and whiskey. Occasionally he cast an impatient glance towards the door. 'Where is my daughter?' asked he of a servant, who had just entered.
'The countess is ill,' he answered, 'and begs you will receive her apology for not being able to appear at the table.'
'This is another of her whims,' said the old man angrily, 'of which she has more than my Polish charger. Go again to her, Rasmus, and say, I command her to be instantly well, and to come and preside at the table.'
Megret advanced to speak a kind word in behalf of the capricious beauty--but the governor motioned him back, and the servant departed.
Christine soon made her appearance, her eyes cast down and her face glowing with displeasure. She silently took her place by her chair, and motioned to the persons present to seat themselves.
'Before we are seated,' said her father, sternly, 'the affair between you and the colonel must be adjusted. You will ask his pardon.'
'Spare me, my father!' implored Christine. 'If the colonel requires satisfaction I will exchange shots with him; but sooner may you drive me from the castle than I will ask the pardon of any man upon earth.'
'Que Dieu m'en garde!' cried Megret laughing. 'Your eyes are accustomed to hitting and wounding men's hearts, and you would have a manifest advantage over me. A blow from so beauteous a hand can as little inflict dishonor as the knight-creating stroke of a king's sword upon a victorious battle-field.'
'You have more luck than understanding,' remarked the governor, at the same time causing himself to be conveyed to the table. For the future, however, I shall expect that you will not forget the treatment which is due to thy father's worthy guests.'
The maiden submissively kissed her father's hand and took her place on his left; Megret seated himself on his right, and Christine nodded to Arwed to sit by her; but he went round the table and seated himself by Megret.
Christine observed this movement with great surprise. 'I love free conversation at the table,' whispered he smilingly to her, 'and have no helmet to protect me.'
'Insufferable!' murmured she, and in her anger at his unsparing irony, filled her father's goblet so full, that the good old burgundy overflowed and colored the exquisite damask table cloth.
Her father was again reproving her for this new impropriety, when the servant announced sir Mac Donalbain, and Christine started with a look of mingled joy and alarm.
'He is heartily welcome!' cried the governor, and a tall, well built man, about thirty years old, entered the hall. He wore a short, green overcoat with copper buttons. At his broad leather girdle, in which two pistols were inserted, hung a broad sabre, and in his hand he carried a double-barrelled gun. His sunburnt face was not regularly handsome, but the spirit and boldness which characterized it, rendered it interesting. The wild black eyes, however, which peered from under his dark brows, and a few wrinkles on his forehead and about his mouth, gave him a grim and disagreeable expression. Arwed, who glanced now at him and now at the polished Frenchman, compared the two, and came to the conclusion that he was not in the very best of company.
'Whence do you come so late, sir Mac Donalbain?' kindly asked the governor.
'I have been hunting in the Asele Lappmark,' answered the guest, laying aside his weapons and boldly seating himself near Christine. 'I had got belated, and the light of your hospitable castle shone so invitingly that I concluded to ask of you entertainment for the night.'
'This worthy Scot is in a certain sense a brother sufferer of yours, dear major, in so far as the death of our king has destroyed his prosperity as well as yours. He had the assurance of an advantageous post in our army, made a long journey to come here, found his hopes annihilated by the death of the king, and for the present lives upon his income, at Hernoesand, awaiting better times.'
'Singular!' remarked Megret, whilst the brother sufferers bowed silently to each other. 'I was lately at Hernoesand, and could hear nothing of you there, although I took particular pains to find you.'
'I reside there no longer,' answered Mac Donalbain, not without some embarrassment. 'A difficulty which I had there, induced me to remove to Arnaes.'
'A difficulty?' asked Megret, smiling. 'I am sorry for that. I hope it was not with the public authorities?'
'One readily perceives, colonel,' interfered Christine, with bitterness, 'that you are a foreigner. In hospitable Sweden, such questions are not allowable, even from the host himself, much less from one guest to another.'
'Why so excited, countess?' asked Megret with his customary cold smile. 'If sir Mac Donalbain _will_ not or _cannot_ answer my question, I shall be content. He has my sympathy, notwithstanding; and, in my journey back to Stockholm, I should be pleased to go round by Arnaes to take personal leave of him.'
'However agreeable that might be to me,' said Mac Donalbain equivocally, 'I must yet by anticipation regret that probably you would not meet me. The amusement of the chase is my passion, and I am almost always abroad.'
'So it appears,' said Megret with a piercing glance, and, turning to the governor, he commenced a conversation with him, respecting the preparations for war making by Denmark and Russia, which threatened poor Sweden anew. Arwed who took a part in this discussion, could not forbear casting an occasional scrutinizing glance at Mac Donalbain, who had commenced a low and apparently interesting conversation with Christine. He saw how the dark eyes of the Scot flashed upon the angelic countenance of the maiden, saw how the latter regarded her wild neighbor with a mixture of fear and anger, of passion and aversion, and he thought, 'what a pity it would be, if this beautiful and innocent creature should have thrown away her heart upon such a man!'
The table was at length cleared. Megret and Mac Donalbain bade their host good night and went to their chambers. Christine kissed her father with humble tenderness, and in a low voice asked him, 'are you still angry?'
'Amend yourself, perverse girl,' said the old man; and gently parting the golden locks from her fair forehead, impressed upon it an affectionate parental kiss.
'My kind, kind father! indeed I do not deserve so much love,' cried the maiden, with deep emotion, pressing his hand to her heaving bosom. She then arose and departed, giving an unfriendly glance and a slighting nod as she passed Arwed. He also wished to seek his bed; but his uncle drew him into a chair near him and filled his goblet again.
'You must help me finish the last bottle, major,' said he. 'I have not at all enjoyed your company yet, and must say to you once more, now we are alone, how dear you are to me. Truly you have come to my house in a good hour! and I hope at some future time to have much to thank you for.'
'How mean you that, dear uncle?' asked Arwed, with some surprise, and partly anticipating the point to which the old man was leading.
'Why should I dissemble with you?' burst forth the old man. 'Your father, indeed, gave me long and broad instructions at Upsala, how I should conduct myself toward you; but this spying and tacking and managing may be all very proper in the royal council, and yet not with so clear and honorable a Swedish mind as yours. Therefore, short and round, you are the right man for my Christine,--you or none.'
'I, dear uncle!' answered Arwed, laughing. 'The commencement of our renewed acquaintance did not seem like it.'
'That indeed, I observed with regret,' confessed the uncle. 'But who regards women's humors, which change as quickly as the fashion of their garments. Bucephalus was a wild and vicious horse, and yet he found his man who knew how to manage him.'
'That was the great Alexander, however,' replied Arwed, continuing the jest. 'I have not vanity enough to put myself on a par with that hero; and, even if I were compelled to attempt the one or the other, I should rather undertake the taming of Bucephalus than of my fair cousin.'
'She is headstrong,' sighed the uncle; 'that, alas! I must myself acknowledge; I, her father, who have permitted her to grow up without proper restraints. But, nevertheless, I believe you would succeed in rendering her submissive. You have, to-day, said such things to her as she has not been accustomed to hear. Because she is handsome, every one who has seen has flattered and indulged her caprices, and, in that way, she has been spoiled. You will let nothing pass without its just comment, I see plainly. She will consequently at first fear, and then respect you, and, after that, between people of your stamp, love will find its way of itself.'
'It occasions me much regret,' said Arwed with sudden earnestness, 'that I am compelled to interpose an insurmountable obstacle to the accomplishment of a hope which, in the fulness of parental love, you so feelingly express. But, in this case, unreserved candor is the holiest duty. My heart is no longer free, good uncle, and my choice is made for life.'
'Your father has already made me acquainted with that affair,' answered the uncle fretfully; 'but I did not suppose that foolish passion, which can hardly endure long, could reasonably interpose any obstacle. The daughter of an executed criminal....'
'An innocent offering at the shrine of contemptible party interests,' said Arwed, with great vehemence, interrupting him; 'truly a martyr to his honesty and to the gigantic plans of his king.'
'And as your father says,' continued the uncle, 'the maiden has herself given you up and bidden an eternal farewell to Sweden.'
'She was compelled by the necessity of satisfying her own conscience; but that cannot release _me_ from the performance of my duty. So long as Georgina lives, so long shall I continue to hope, and truly will I keep my troth.'
'Such troth is senseless,' answered the uncle, suppressing his emotion. 'However, there is something in your constancy which pleases me. Do as you will. I hope at any rate, you will place so much confidence in me as to believe that I would not urge my daughter upon you, in opposition to your feelings. I am firmly persuaded, however, that the affair will gradually work itself right. Rank, figure, affinity, wealth, all fitting. By heaven! you were created for each other or no couple ever were. Sleep before you determine. As for the rest, what has been said upon these matters must remain within the walls of this room--to that promise give me your hand.'
Arwed gave the required pledge. The governor rang for his attendants, bade Arwed good night, and was rolled to his sleeping room.
'This is a strange entanglement in which I shall henceforth be obliged to act!' said Arwed to himself, while the servants were waiting at the door, with branched silver candlesticks, to show him to his room; 'Georgina and myself--I and my uncle, and Christine--and Christine and Megret--and Mac Donalbain and Christine!--and this Megret and Mac Donalbain, who again appear to stand in hostile constellations; and I, who, as I already foresee, shall at some future time be compelled to encounter both of them--this Mac Donalbain who spears to me like the serpent in paradise endeavoring to seduce the poor innocent, foolish mother of mankind. This Megret!--ah, this Megret! I will go to bed. God preserve me from wicked dreams.'
The hunting bugle-call and the baying of hounds awoke Arwed from his morning slumbers. As he opened his eyes they were greeted by the imaged orb with which the rays of the morning sun announced its rising, glowingly and tremblingly reflected from the bosom of the sea. Arwed sprang from his bed, threw his cloak over his shoulders, and raised the window to enjoy the beauty of awakening nature. In the court below, the huntsmen, horses and hounds were moving about with loud and joyous tumult, and old Knut, who had saddled Arwed's black charger, was now leading him from the stable.
'By whose command is this?' asked Arwed of the man below.
'The countess Christine!' cried Knut.
'Lead him back to his stall and take the saddle off,' commanded Arwed. 'I shall not ride this morning.'
Shaking his head, the faithful servant obeyed, and at same moment the door was thrown open and his beautiful cousin, whose fresh charms almost outshone the morning's splendor, entered his room in her hunting dress.
'I am going upon a bear hunt,' said she in a more friendly manner than on the preceding evening. 'Will you accompany me, cousin Arwed?'
'I am much obliged to you,' answered Arwed, 'but I prefer remaining in the house.'
Christine started, apparently surprised and perplexed by a cold refusal which she had not anticipated as possible, 'Perhaps you are not fond of this kind of chase?' she satirically asked.
'Yes!' answered Arwed, quietly; 'but not in your company, cousin.'
'Now, I confess!'--cried Christine, making a powerful effort to suppress the last part of the sentence which was at her tongue's end, 'May one venture to ask, wherefore, major?'
'Oh yes, one may venture, countess,' answered Arwed, 'and I will most willingly respond to the question. I do not like to see women pursuing employments unsuited to their sex. The riding and hunting and baiting and shooting of ladies, always excites in me intolerable displeasure.'
'That is nothing but the quite common pride and selfishness of your sex,' said Christine with bitterness, 'which would have our's always feeble that you may the more easily keep us under the yoke.'
'Woe to you, poor women,' exclaimed Arwed, laughing, 'if you had no better defence against our imperiousness than your physical strength; you would every where come off the worse. Nevertheless, countess, your sex is more powerful than you believe it. Your most powerful talisman is your womanhood; and it is a bad exchange, when you give it up for the fame of a rifleman or hussar.'
'_Give it up?_' repeated Christine with great excitement.
'Nothing less,' answered Arwed. 'To override horses, to chase and kill animals, is a rough business. A man may pursue it without suffering in his character, for nature has destined him forcibly to oppose its hostile powers by contending with them for his safety and his food,--and, in doing so, he but fulfills his destiny. More tender and delicate woman has other duties. God created women to be the protegés, the tender companions of men, to soften and ennoble their fierce and intractable natures, and to be the loving mothers and guardians of their children.'
'Silence!' cried Christine, angrily.
'All the peculiar qualities, however, which naturally belong to you,' continued Arwed pleasantly, seizing Christine's hands and holding them fast, as if he feared Megret's fate, 'all, and they are the noblest which adorn your sex, must be lost in the masculine woman, and she will be very fortunate if she preserve the purity of her soul, which is in great danger, when the restraint of modest, maidenly customs is once thrown off.'
Christine started with a sudden shudder. Tears burst from her beautiful eyes, and she withdrew her hands from his.
'What is the matter, cousin?' he exclaimed, with deep sympathy.
'You despise me, Arwed!' sobbed the maiden.
'What an unfortunate idea!' answered Arwed. 'Whoever fears the contempt of another, feels that he deserves it, and that can never be the case with the countess Christine.'
'You are right!' exclaimed Christine, with a firm tone, applying her handkerchief to her eyes to remove all traces of her tears, and proceeding to the window to cool her flushed face in the morning air.
'You will not accompany me to the chase, then?' she finally asked, as if nothing had occurred between them.
'No!' answered Arwed.
'Then I will also remain at home,' said she; and, calling to the servants from the window, she directed them to give over their preparations, as she was indisposed; after which she threw herself into a seat opposite Arwed.
'This chase was in reality only devised to obtain an opportunity for an undisturbed conversation with you,' said she, 'and that object can be attained as well here. My father has had a bad night and now sleeps soundly.'
'Well, speak on!' answered Arwed, placing himself in a listening attitude. 'If what you wish to say be something good, it will give me great pleasure to hear it.'
'Not altogether good,' said Christine, casting her eyes upon the floor in great embarrassment.
'So I should imagine,' answered Arwed. 'The feelings you have manifested toward me since my arrival have not been of the most friendly kind.'
'By heaven, Arwed, you do me injustice!' exclaimed. Christine, springing up and holding out her beautiful hand to him. 'My feelings are as kind toward you now as formerly, when we, two joyous children, sought shells together on the beach; and I would be on yet better terms with you; only you appear not to desire it.'
'How do you mean?' asked the ingenuous Arwed, who understood his cousin but too well.
'In one word,' she suddenly exclaimed, 'my father destines my hand for you, and I shall be compelled to oppose his determination.'
'That is indeed no very flattering communication,' said Arwed. 'It explains the unmannerly reception you gave me, however. It was nothing but your fear of my tenderness; but as you know your father's intentions, so you should also know the impediments, on my side, in the way of their accomplishment. I love another maiden.'
'That I knew,' said Christine, 'but I was afraid....'
'That your cousin's truth would not be able to withstand these powerful attractions,' said Arwed completing the sentence for her. 'You are either very vain of your charms, beauteous cousin, or have made acquaintance with very bad specimens of our sex.'
A deep sigh escaped from the oppressed bosom of Christine.
'Now, so long as I remain here,' continued Arwed, 'it shall be my most anxious endeavor to restore my sex to your good opinion. In the first place I shall quiet your apprehensions by the assurance, that my heart is entirely filled by a distant and beloved object,--that I shall never become troublesome to you as a suitor,--and that I will decline the proposed connection with so much decision, that the anger of our parents shall fall entirely on myself. I would love you as a brother should love a sister; but I would also be allowed the brother's right to tell you the truth whenever I may think it necessary to your welfare,--would counsel you,--warn you....'
'Yes, Arwed, be my brother!' cried Christine, with a convulsive pressure of his hand. 'Ah, that you could always have been so!'
'By this, however,' said Arwed, 'I must consider myself as having acquired some claim to your sisterly confidence. I am glad to know that you can feel no other sentiment for me, as it would give me pain to be compelled to reject your heart as well as your hand. But I cannot possibly believe that your coldness extends to the whole sex. That, indeed, would be still more unnatural than your horse-racing and bear-hunting; No, no! your heart is not insensible. The glance of your eye, like the diamond, now flashing fire, and now dissolving in crystals, has already revealed it. You know what it is to love!'
'You afflict me cruelly, cousin!' cried Christine, holding her hand before her traitorous eyes.
'Confide in me,' entreated Arwed, affectionately withdrawing her hand from her face. 'Go back with me to the times of our happy childhood, when we mutually imparted all our little secrets, when we laid our hearts before each other like open books. Let me once more read in yours: who is the man of your choice?'
'You _shall_ read it, Arwed,' cried Christine; 'by heaven you shall read it! But not now,--only not to-day.'
'Why not now?' urged Arwed. 'The present is precisely the right moment. Your heart is now softened and open. Pour it out towards me before caprice and false shame shall again harden and close it. Name the man of your choice to me, and take my word that I will honestly do whatever I can to promote your happiness. Surely, Christine can have no reason to be ashamed of her choice!'
'Pity me!' cried she; and, again bursting into tears, she fled from the room.
'Strange!' said Arwed, looking after her. 'The maiden is not at peace with herself; that is evident from the violence and eccentricity of her behaviour. There is a wounded spot in her heart which smarts at the least touch. Pray heaven it be not Mac Donalbain! It would be a pity for so magnificent a creature.'
Arwed had soon become accustomed and reconciled to his exile at Gyllensten. Excursions among its environs under the pretext of hunting, afforded him ample enjoyment of the beauties of nature and free scope for the play of his imagination; and these, together with the business of the governor's bureau, in which, at his own request, he was permitted to take a part, occupied his days; while the evenings were employed in reading to the family circle, and in playing chess, a favorite game with his uncle. Thus, by means of constant and varied occupation, the time passed rapidly and pleasantly at the solitary castle. Meanwhile Megret, who had already obtained two extensions of his furlough, continued to besiege the heart of the fair Christine, and to submit with patient resignation to all the caprices by which that eccentric maiden chose to prove the constancy and perseverance of her adorer. He was, indeed, almost the only one at Gyllensten who had to suffer from them; for Arwed, true to the brotherly character which he had assumed, did not spare his beautiful sister, and every instance of arrogance in which the unevenness of her humor led her to indulge, was quietly though earnestly reproved, until she was oftentimes brought to despair. These little quarrels usually ended with tears and supplications on the part of Christine, which were so touching that it required all the influence of Georgina's memory and the conviction of Christine's secret love for another, to cool his youthful heart to that degree of circumspection necessary in his peculiar circumstances. Mac Donalbain's frequent visits to Gyllensten, moreover, seemed to exercise a great and unhappy influence upon the disposition of the otherwise so lovely maiden. During his presence she exhibited a constant excitement which immediately after his departure changed to a deep melancholy, out of which she emerged only to torment all who would suffer themselves to be tormented by her, with her caprices. From her father she concealed the state of her feelings as much as possible, and if it occasionally occurred to him that all was not as it should be, the business of his office, in consequence of the critical situation of the country, prevented his looking too deeply into the affairs of his household or his daughter's heart; and Arwed, though Christine still remained indebted to him for her promised confidence, could not bring himself to betray her to his uncle.
In this manner the summer had arrived, when one evening at the supper table, in Megret's and Mac Donalbain's presence, the governor asked Arwed if he had a desire to see a natural curiosity, to visit which Charles XI did not hesitate to make a long journey.
Arwed joyfully assured him that he regarded the wonders of the natural world as a spectacle, in comparison with which the greatest efforts of human ingenuity were of little value,--and that it was, indeed, one of his favorite occupations to contemplate them.
'The Tornea-Laplanders have lately made many complaints to me,' said the governor. 'They complain especially of the collectors of the royal taxes, and of the excesses of the Finlanders, attracted within their boundaries by the chase. Since my gout has left me, I will myself ride to Tornea, to examine and adjust all these affairs upon the spot; and have selected the longest day in the year for that purpose. It is their court day, and also the day of their annual fair, which collects together the inhabitants of the whole country surrounding Tornea; and we can at the same time enjoy the rare and beautiful spectacle of the sun, which on this day does not set at all, enabling the king of Sweden in a certain sense to claim the same honor of which the sovereign of Spain and the Indies makes his boast.'
'I thank you heartily for offering me this rare enjoyment,' said Arwed, and Christine timidly requested to be allowed to make one of the party.
'Certainly, if it will afford you pleasure, and you prefer going with us to staying at home,' answered her father significantly. 'We have for some time past become somewhat strange to each other, without my being able to guess precisely what is the cause of it.'
Christine cast a melancholy and complaining glance upon her neighbor, Mac Donalbain, and Megret eagerly begged to be added to the company.
'Your society is always agreeable to me,' answered the governor. 'How stands it with you, sir Mac Donalbain?' he kindly asked the Scot, 'will you also be of our party? Rich as your Scotland is in natural wonders, you cannot see this spectacle there. Scandinavia is the only country of Europe which exhibits it, with the exception of poor Iceland, which hardly deserves to be regarded as belonging to our part of the world.'
'I do not know when you intend to undertake the excursion,' answered Mac Donalbain with some embarrassment.
'We start to-morrow morning at day-break,' answered the governor.
'My engagements will not allow me to join the interesting expedition so soon,' said Mac Donalbain. 'It is barely possible that I may so manage my affairs as to be able to meet and pay my respects to you at Tornea.'
'It must be a strange business,' said Megret, 'which prevents your accompanying us, and at the same time permits you to meet us at the end of our journey.'
'I do not consider, colonel,' cried Mac Donalbain, with a look of deadly hate and a low bow to the scoffer, 'that I am under any obligation to account to you for my business, or the manner in which it is pursued.'
'By no means, sir Mac Donalbain,' answered Megret, returning his bow; 'I am not one of the police-officers of this province, and have no official inducement to trouble myself about your pursuits.'
'Death and hell! what mean you by that?' exclaimed Mac Donalbain, springing from his seat,--but Christine pulled him down again and anxiously whispered to him some words of entreaty.
'Forget not, gentlemen,' cried the governor in an authoritative tone of voice, 'that you are both my guests, and that it does not become you to quarrel upon my hearth, where you have both been freely welcomed. I esteem you both and would resign the society of neither, but I have a right to demand that you respect this castle, and seek a more suitable place for the indulgence of the secret enmity which you appear to bear toward each other. This time, colonel, you are in the wrong. I regret to be compelled to say to you that, if sir Mac Donalbain took your remark somewhat too sharply, yet you gave occasion therefor by the scornful tone in which it was made. Therefore you owe it to me and to him to take the first step toward a reconciliation; and you cannot be considered my friend, if you refuse to drink the health of this noble Scot, which I now propose.'
A struggle was now seen in the proud Frenchman, between the hatred he bore his enemy and the respect due from him to the father of Christine. He cast a tiger glance upon Mac Donalbain, which was met by one equally fierce, and not being able to come to a determination what to do, he waited in moody silence, neither accepting nor rejecting the goblet offered to him by the governor.
'Do you hesitate?' earnestly asked the governor. 'As yet neither of you has said any thing to the other which can be considered injurious to the honor of a gentleman. This is only a misunderstanding, which must be completely reconciled. If you refuse this, you thereby confess an intention to offend sir Mac Donalbain, and it will become my duty as host to resent it as if the offence were intended for me.'
Megret seized the goblet, 'The lord of this castle,' said he with suppressed rage to Mac Donalbain, 'calls you a noble Scot. As I have not the pleasure of an intimate acquaintance with you, I am willing to consider the statement which has so noble a voucher as true, and upon that supposition I drink your health.'
'I receive the toast and return it with as much sincerity as it was offered,' answered Mac Donalbain, emptying his glass.
The governor, observing that the anger of the two belligerents still remained, in spite of the constrained and ambiguous reconciliation, thought it prudent to give the signal for retiring.
'That we may be able to start early in the morning,' said he, rising, 'I hope my worthy guests will excuse me if I break up the sitting earlier than usual. I intend to seek my bed betimes, that I may be the better prepared for the fatigues of the journey, and therefore wish you a good night.'
'I shall have the honor to be at the door of your carriage by sunrise, ready for the journey,' said Megret, bowing and retiring.
'As I must start this evening for Arnaes,' said Mac Donalbain, 'allow me to wish you a pleasant ride. At Tornea I hope to meet you again.'
He departed with a significant glance at Christine, who followed him out, and Arwed was left alone with his uncle.
The governor remained some time in a deep reverie, rubbing the wrinkles from his forehead, which as constantly reappeared there, and finally asked Arwed: 'what think you of our two guests?'
'You must long since have observed that neither of them is particularly agreeable to me. Being your guests, I would have said nothing against them; but since you expressly ask my opinion, I will give it honestly: they appear to me like two wolves engaged tooth and nail in fighting for a noble deer. God grant that the victim may save herself during the contest, and both the monsters have an empty reckoning.'
'Your comparison appears to me to be overstrained; you may not, however be wholly wrong. As soon as I return from Tornea I will adopt different measures. I begin to think it would have been better had I done so at an earlier period. Good night.'
The rising sun of the next morning found every one busy at Gyllensten, and the travelers prepared for their excursion. Christine, who had hoped to fly in advance of the rest of the company on her swift dun courser, was compelled to take a seat in the carriage with her father, who feared his gout, and her noble horse was led after her by the domestics, who accompanied the expedition in another carriage. Arwed and Megret, with their grooms, were in the saddle. The company set forth in a northerly direction, having the gulf of Bothnia on their right, and the mountains of Lapland on their left, passing the stations Beygde and Skelleste until they arrived at the little port of Pitea, which, yet poorer than Umea, lay at the mouth of the Pitea Elf. There, with the relay horses, six Swedish dragoons, furnished by the bailiwick and led by the sheriff, marched up with drawn swords to perform escort duty for the remainder of the governor's journey.
'Wherefore trouble these people, Mr. Sheriff?' said the governor. 'The road is safe, as far as I know, and for that reason I took no escort with me from Umea.'
'For some time past,' answered the sheriff, 'a band of robbers have beset this neighborhood. Two well planned and successfully executed burglaries, in quick succession, have created much alarm; and yesterday, a man who attempted to travel to Tornea, was found slain upon the road between here and Lulea.'
'And you have yet made no effort to apprehend the perpetrators of the deed?' asked the governor discontentedly. 'If the police do their duty such transgressors cannot long escape the vengeance of the laws.'
'The waste and desolate condition of that region,' said the sheriff by way of excuse, 'facilitates the flight of the robbers and renders pursuit difficult. The inhabitants of the scattered houses and small hamlets fear to seize a single robber while their helpless situation exposes them to the vengeance of the whole band, which numbers thirty men. Their leader is called Black Naddock, and always has his face colored black when he goes out upon his predatory excursions.'
'You must cause strict search to be made,' directed the governor. 'Write to the sheriff of Umea, in my name, for as many men as he can spare. Until they arrive you must do the best you can with your dragoons. They need not accompany us. We are numerous and used to danger. Should the robbers venture to attack us, we should suffer less from the encounter than they.'
He entered his carriage and the whole company continued their route, still in a northerly direction, by the little town of Lulea, where the greater and less Lulea Elf roll their mingled waters into the sea, until they arrived at Ranea, where the gulf of Bothnia forms an angle and the road turns off to the east. So far nothing had occurred to justify the apprehensions of the sheriff, and the caution of the travelers, which had hitherto kept them in close companionship, that they might be ready to aid each other, began to relax. Megret, whom Christine jestingly accused of riding near the carriage not for hers but his own safety, had angrily ridden forward; and Arwed, giving way to his own reflections, had turned into a fir-wood on the left, in which he followed a foot-path leading toward the north. He might have followed this path for the space of an hour, when he heard at a distance ahead of him a sudden cry for help. Giving the spur to his horse, he flew in the direction whence the voice came. He soon came in view of Megret contending with four ill-looking fellows, who had seized his horse by the bridle and furiously beset him with cudgels and cutlasses.
'However little he may deserve it,' said the youth to himself, 'one must help him in his extremity!' and, with a pistol in his left, and a drawn sword in his right hand, he rushed into the fight. This attack called the attention of the ruffians from Megret, who, taking advantage of the circumstance, recovered his bridle and made off with all possible speed.
Angry at the escape of their prey, the robbers now fell upon Arwed. The latter, having fired and missed, soon had full employment for his sword and the activity of his horse, in keeping off the ruffians, who attacked him on all sides, and appeared to be well accustomed to such combats. He made an attempt to wheel his horse suddenly to the right and thus make an opening for escape; but here two other men, who by their appearance belonged to the gang, met him with well aimed rifles.
'I could have wished a more honorable death,' he murmured, and at that moment a tall man in a green hunting dress sprang from a neighboring thicket. A red plume waved from his hat, and his face was black as a Moor's. He spoke some angry words in an unintelligible jargon to the robbers, upon which they immediately abandoned Arwed and disappeared in the bushes, and the Moor motioned to Arwed to depart.
'Thanks, captain!' said Arwed, rejoiced at this unexpected rescue, and pushing forward, he soon found himself upon the highway.
There he met Megret, with both of their servants, coming to seek for him. 'Here you are, then!' said Megret out of breath, 'and, as I hope, not wounded. I should never have forgiven myself if you had been injured in rescuing me!'
'God be praised that you are alive, Arwed!' cried the beauteous Christine, flying to meet him upon her favorite dun courser, and her blue eyes flashed upon him so affectionately as to cause a fluttering at his heart.
'You see, major,' said Megret flatteringly, 'how instantaneously all were hastening to your assistance.'
'Your promptness is worthy of all thanks, colonel,' answered Arwed; 'but your help would have been of little service to me had I not been so fortunate as to make the acquaintance of Black Naddock. His command caused the fiends by whom I was hard pressed, to vanish. Had he not appeared most opportunely, you would in all probability have found only my dead body.'
'That would indeed have been purchasing the safety of a man who could leave his preserver in the danger which had been incurred for his sake, at too dear a rate,' remarked Christine, with bitterness.
Megret did not notice the sarcasm, as at that moment he was begging of Arwed, with singular eagerness, that he would describe the personal appearance of the robber-captain.
'He was a tall, well made man,' answered Arwed, 'about Mac Donalbain's size, in a hunting dress, well armed, and with a black face.'
'But the features of that face?' asked Megret, anxiously. 'Bore they no resemblance to any you have heretofore seen?'
'Really!' answered Arwed with a smile, 'I did not give myself time to examine the blackamoor. In leaving him with all convenient haste I did what you surely will excuse, as you set the first example of a resort to the spur.'
'You ought to have shot him down!' continued Megret venomously, 'and then we should have been no longer in the dark with regard to his identity.'
'At the moment when he had just saved my life?' asked Arwed, with earnestness. 'Surely, that cannot be your true meaning, colonel!'
'The countess is fainting!' screamed old Knut, spurring his horse to Christine's side, and catching the pale maiden in his arms.
'Fainting! such a heroine fainting upon so slight an occasion!' sneeringly remarked Megret. 'There must be some especial and secret cause for it! Whether that cause rides here upon the highway, or skulks there in the woods?--that is the question.'
Arwed, who had listened in silent wonder to Megret's observations, which were wholly unintelligible to him, had in the meantime ridden to the other side of Christine, and there assisted Knut in supporting the poor girl in her saddle while they slowly returned to the carriage, from which the governor had taken the horses in order to send the coachman to the belligerents, as a reinforcement.
'Thank heaven, it is not necessary!' cried he, glancing at Arwed, and, extending his hand, he affectionately exclaimed, 'my brave son!'
'We bring you a patient,' said Arwed, lifting Christine from her horse, with Knut's assistance, and placing her in the carriage by her father's side.
'Yes, no dissuasion could prevent it,' answered the governor. She would go. She has had her way, and I am glad the unmanageable girl has for once been compelled to yield to the weakness of her sex.'
At this moment Christine opened her eyes. Her glance at first fell upon Arwed with inexpressible tenderness. She then shrunk and trembled as though her soul was subdued by some horrible fear. Terror and dismay were depicted in her features, and she hid her face in the bosom of her astonished father.
The sun of the longest summer day shone brightly in the horizon, as the governor and his companions approached Tornea, the end of their journey, and the meanest among the (so called) cities of West Bothnia. It lies near the boundary of East Bothnia, upon the delta of the united rivers Tornea and Muonio, whose waters here again divide into two branches before falling into the gulf of Bothnia. The little place, with its towers, its handsome shops, and green shaded walks, nevertheless presented itself under a very pleasant aspect in the clear sunshine. In the city itself, however, the whole population of West Bothnia and its Lapponian districts appeared to have been concentrated, and in the streets and public square swarmed and pressed the joyous multitude, who were pouring in to obtain a redress of their grievances, to be relieved from their taxes, to buy and sell, and to enjoy themselves in so numerous a company. The thick-set and bold Finlanders, with flat yellow faces and dull gray eyes, their thin beards and dusky yellow hair, in their short coats, dome-shaped caps, and fur-trimmed half boots--the timid, short Laplanders, with their broad brown faces, large mouths, blear eyes, and dark brown hair, with their leather coats reaching to their knees, their small caps, and pointed, fur-trimmed sandals,--all were here,--bringing with them fat cattle, venison, sheepskins, bearskins, fish, reindeer cheeses, utensils carved from wood, reindeer's horns, and pine bark meal, in great quantities, for sale. Here came the wife of one of the poor fishermen of Lapland, in her high conical cap, turning out of the way for the reindeer upon which the wives of some of the rich mountain Laplanders proudly flaunted by, in their curved conical head-dresses. There, a Laplandish burgher-maiden ostentatiously displayed herself in her fine cloth dress, decorated with silver buttons from the girdle to the feet, as was the black bodice, and also rendered stiff and unbending with buckles and spangles. High over these rather diminutive figures towered here and there the majestic forms of the blond natives of Sweden, who were moving about like giants among a race of pigmies.
The travelers alighted before the door of the sheriff's residence, and the governor immediately entered upon business, which crowded upon him like the unceasing rush of the storm-lashed waves. Megret, with a few internally muttered oaths, was seeking Christine, who had disappeared from his view soon after their arrival, and Arwed remained standing at the house door, amusing himself with watching the confused crowd in the public square. While he was thus employed, a sudden movement occurred among the living masses, as if an island of human heads was forming in one particular spot. Arms, with and without clubs, were ever and anon raised above the thickly crowded heads, and a confused cry arose, in which Arwed soon plainly distinguished the words, 'stop him! stop him!' The next moment a man in a green hunting dress rushed from the square towards the door of the sheriff's house, ran by Arwed with such impetuosity that he came near throwing him down, and hastily entered the room where the governor was holding his official sitting. While the astonished Arwed was looking after the fugitive, a Lapland village constable (or magistrate) came puffing and blowing from the same direction in the square. A dozen other Laplanders followed in his wake, armed with hunting spears, oars and cudgels. With the timidity to which the oppressed are early accustomed by their oppressors, the little constable looked up to the tall Swedish warrior, took off his cap, and with cringing humility asked him if he knew what had become of the green-coat who had just before fled into the house.
'Impossible!' cried he, as Arwed pointed towards the session room; 'how could such a thievish fox seek refuge in the tent of the huntsman? Not that I in the least doubt the truth of your intimation, noble sir,' added he, courteously, 'but Enontekis must have mistaken the man, and he cannot be the one whom we seek.'
'He is the same,' asseverated one of the Laplanders; 'I have marked the features of his face but too well, and should know him among a thousand.'
'So then we must pluck up fresh courage,' said the constable in a very dispirited tone, 'and request an audience of the gentlemen within. Come with me, Enontekis, to enter your complaint; and you others, guard the door, that this beast of prey may not escape.'
The two Laplanders entered the session room. Arwed followed them with highly excited curiosity. The first object that met his eye was the huntsman, whom he now for the first time recognised as Mac Donalbain, in close and friendly conversation with the governor. While he was vainly endeavoring to find the key to these singular occurrences, the constable and his companion, afraid to speak aloud in the presence of their superiors, were disputing in vehement pantomime, the former denying and the latter affirming, although with constantly increasing uncertainty and anxiety. Finally, the constable approached the bar and slightly touched the arm of the sheriff.
'With your leave, respected sir,' asked he, as the latter turned toward him, 'does the stranger huntsman there enjoy the acquaintance of the lord governor?'
'So it would seem,' answered the sheriff, 'as the governor has just now invited him to dinner.'
At that moment the governor shook the Scot kindly by the hand, and the Laplander started back in affright.
'Do you not now perceive that you must have been blind?' whispered he to the good Enontekis. 'My God! what trouble might I not have prepared for myself through my zeal for the discharge of my official duty! To follow a friend and guest of our most noble governor as a criminal! But happily the gentlemen have not perceived us, and we cannot do better than to make a speedy retreat.'
With anxious haste he drew his somewhat reluctant companion out of the room. Meanwhile Mac Donalbain had taken his leave of the governor, and now quickly, but with a courteous greeting, dashed past Arwed, who followed him to the door of the room. There he saw him cast a wild glance toward the crowd assembled before the front door, and then turn off to the right toward the back door, which opened into the garden. The constable was standing there, engaged in a warm dispute with poor Enontekis, who was still unsatisfied that he could have been mistaken. Their armed followers, whose thirst for battle did not appear to be very strong, were standing solemnly around them. Mac Donalbain stood for a moment regarding the group as if considering what course to take, and then marched boldly up to his pursuers.
'Out of the way, Laplanders!' thundered he, hurling them to the right and left; and in this manner he passed through the assemblage and disappeared.
'That was very uncourteous, sir Swede!' cried the terrified constable after him when he had got out of hearing. 'We call ourselves Samolazes, and not Laplanders. Our enemies only call us so, when they wish to insult us; but we poor people are treated justly nowhere upon earth, and must be patient under all our injuries until we appear before the final judgment seat!'
The tone of the little man grew constantly weaker and weaker during this speech. Weeping, he went forth; weeping, Enontekis followed him; and sobbing and wiping their eyes, the twelve warriors followed them.
'What can all this mean?' Arwed asked himself, as he returned to the session room.
'Mac Donalbain,' observed he to the governor, 'appeared to seek you with great haste; had he any very important favor to ask?'
'Not that I know of,' answered the governor. 'He came here only for a moment, to fulfill his promise that he would greet me at Tornea. He was obliged to decline my invitation to dinner because of an engagement with a hunting party.'
'Has Mac Donalbain been here?' asked Megret, hastily entering the room.
'But a moment since,' answered Arwed, 'and he cannot now be far off. What do you wish of him?'
'A crowd of Laplanders,' said Megret, 'are seeking, with spears and poles, in all the streets of Tornea for a huntsman, who, according to their description, can be no other than Mac Donalbain; and I should be very happy to place the noble gentleman before the good people, so that I might learn precisely what they want of him.'
'We shall probably find him in the garden,' answered Arwed, and they hastened there together. But the garden was empty. 'Incomprehensible!' exclaimed the sheriff, who had followed them. 'The garden gate leading to the street is closed, and I have the key with me.'
'Not so incomprehensible as you may suppose,' rejoined Megret, pointing to a hedge-row by the garden wall whose freshly broken and trampled branches plainly showed that some one had recently clambered over them.
'Your pardon, sir officer,' stammered the sheriff, examining the damaged hedge, 'that is still more incomprehensible,--for what could have induced the gentleman to climb over the wall, and thus do me so great an injury?'
'That, master sheriff,' answered Megret, 'is to me most comprehensible, if I am right in my suspicions.'
'What do you mean by that?' asked Arwed; but Megret, who was busily examining the marks of injury upon the hedge, did not hear him. 'So the weasel has escaped me,' said he, grating his teeth; 'but, by my honor, he is lost if he again venture into my snare.'
'The royal taxes were raised, the constantly recurring lawsuits of the Finns and Laplanders about pasturage, the chase and the fishery, were settled in some way, by power and with mildness, the sun was approaching the horizon, and the hum of the crowd in the market place grew fainter and fainter.
'My business is finished,' said the governor to Arwed, 'and it will soon be time to view the spectacle for which you have given yourself the trouble to come here. Seek Christine. We shall set out immediately.'
Arwed searched the house, garden, and the whole of the little town, without being able to find her. As he was returning in the ill humor naturally consequent upon his want of success, he was met by the sheriff's little daughter.
'Perhaps you can tell me, my child,' he asked, 'where I can find the governor's daughter?'
The little thing gave him an arch look and placed her finger on her nose. 'That indeed can I,' answered she; 'but I know not whether I may venture to do so.'
'I will answer for it that you may,' Arwed jestingly assured her. 'I am a messenger from her father--'
'And possibly for that reason I may not. Fathers must not be allowed to know every thing. The countess told me that, should a handsome slender man in a green hunting dress ask for her, I might direct him where she was. Now you are indeed handsome and slender, but the green dress is wanting.'
'Who knows if she will be able to see the green coat to-day,' answered Arwed significantly. 'Lead me to her. Perhaps she will be willing to receive, for once, a blue coat instead of the green.'
'Well, at your own risk!' cried the child, leading him by some deserted passages through the house and garden into the open fields, where the waters of a meandering stream glistened among the trees in the evening sun.
'She is there behind that thicket of alder bushes upon the border of the stream!' whispered the child. 'Good success to you, sir officer!' and she ran back to the house.
'Even at the north pole,' said Arwed, proceeding forward, 'the sex indulge in amorous intrigues, and promote those of others when they have none of their own.' He came to the bushes, and was not a little astonished when, instead of Christine, he beheld a Finnish peasant girl, who sat angling on the bank with her back towards him. But the disguise was soon betrayed by the beauteous golden locks of the girl, and the deep reverie into which she had fallen,--and he silently approached through the bushes, that he might surprise his fair cousin.
The latter discovered by the slight movements of the foliage that some one was approaching; but, pretending not to have remarked it, she sang in her sweetest tones a Finnish song, in keeping with her assumed character. The words were as follows:
Oh! if the dear and only loved Might by some magic art appear, Though on his mouth the wolfs blood hung, My lips should kiss its beauty clear! Though round his hand a serpent's coil Envious, had twined its venom'd ring, Would not all-powerful love defy The danger of the reptile's sting!
Why lacks the wind a fervent soul Like that which glows within my breast? Why lives not language in its sigh? Then could it speed my fond request! Then, truant, then the whisp'ring breeze Thy thoughts might interchange with mine; And, faithful carrier, swiftly bear The throbbings of this heart to thine!
'Poor maiden!' sighed Arwed with fearful misgivings. 'God grant that the man thy heart has chosen, drip only with the blood of the wolf, that the serpents of hell be not coiled around the hand which thou wouldst press so tenderly in thine!'
Meanwhile Christine, having ended her song, listened a moment, and then turning towards the thicket, exclaimed, 'tease me no longer, Mac Donalbain, it is you--I hear your breathing.'
'The lover hears acutely, but not always rightly,' said Arwed advancing. 'It is only the breathing of your insignificant kinsman.'
'My God, what have I done!' shrieked the terrified Christine, covering her face with her hands.
'Lost the secret,' answered Arwed 'that you once promised to confide to me. I am indebted to accident for what I now know, and not to your confidence.'
'Can that be any excuse for your betraying me?' asked Christine, grasping his hand and searching deeply into his soul with her beautiful blue eyes.
'Do I look like a betrayer?' asked Arwed, indignantly withdrawing his hand. 'The knowledge of what I only conjectured till now, at least authorises me to exercise the fraternal right which you have conceded to me, and earnestly to warn you against this Scot, who, by the mildest judgment, is only an adventurer. Even if the garb in which you have to-day so strangely clothed yourself did actually belong to you, you could not hope to derive any especial honor from such a connection; the countess Gyllenstierna degrades her rank and reputation when she throws herself away upon a suspected vagabond.'
'Then cast I from me both rank and reputation,' cried the maiden, with the defiance of desperation, 'and retain the garb which brings me nearer to him, and in which I am allowed to love him.'
'Has it gone so far with you, cousin? Then indeed must this masquerade have some secret object, and you were at least willing to try, how it would become you against the time when it may be adopted for life. There is too much meaning in this, and I should but discharge the duty of a guest and kinsman by informing your father of the affair.'
Christine gave the youth a piercing glance, and sprung upon a rock which jutted out far over the stream. 'Give me your word of honor, Arwed,' cried she from her place of refuge, 'that you will remain silent to every one upon this matter, or I will instantly throw myself into the stream.'
'What madness!' cried Arwed, advancing to take her from her dangerous situation.
'Back!' screamed she wildly. 'The first step you take toward me shall plunge me in a cold and watery grave. By my mother's ashes, I will keep my word! In any event life has henceforth no joy for me.'
'Well, come down!' cried Arwed, angrily; 'by my honor I will be silent.'
'Thanks, thanks!' said Christine descending; 'you are a Gyllenstierna and will keep your word. And now, nothing more upon this unpleasant subject. Let us return to our companions. My disguise is a jest I played off upon you. Do you understand me, Arwed?'
'Perfectly!' answered the latter; and, troubled by the cloud hanging over the maiden's fate, as well as vexed that he had taken upon himself the thankless office of confidant, he gave his arm to the beauteous Finlander, and they proceeded back to the house in moody silence.
At ten o'clock in the evening, which, however, was no evening there, the whole party found themselves assembled in the church of Tornea. The governor was standing near the altar in earnest contemplation of a suspended tablet which narrated in golden letters how Charles XI had observed the midnight sun from the tower of that church, in the year 1694. At the same time the pastor of the church, a venerable old man, was calling the attention of Christine to a medal which had been struck upon that occasion. Looking over her shoulder Arwed read the inscription: _Soli inocciduo sol obvius alter_,--and asked if this metaphor were not too much in the oriental style for Charles XI.
'Charles XI,' answered Megret, approaching the group, 'left to his son a throne well supported at home and respected abroad; with a full treasury, and many flourishing provinces, besides the hereditary states. How happy would it have been for Sweden had his son been willing to rest contented with the glory of having preserved his paternal inheritance.'
The uncle and nephew simultaneously turned towards the speaker, with noble indignation, to defend the character of their adored king against his foreign traducer;--but before they could find words, the pastor, accustomed to speak in that house, and stirred by the occasion, took the answer upon himself. 'The judgment,' cried he, in his deep, resounding voice, 'which you have passed upon our immortal king is as unjust as it is harsh. You forget that his first wars were purely defensive; that even his victories, which rendered Sweden illustrious in the eyes of all Europe, involved him in circumstances which at last brought misfortunes upon his head. You judge him by the situation in which he left his realm when God removed him from it in the bloom of manhood, and entirely overlook what he would have accomplished for Sweden had he been allowed time for the fulfilment of his designs for her prosperity. It is a sad truth that the country now finds itself on the brink of misery; but far be it from us to complain of our immortal king, on that account. Let us rather curse the murderous villain whose bullet ended that great man's life before Frederickshall! Him, him alone, has the kingdom to thank for its calamities; and may all the tears and blood which have flowed since that black night, and which must flow hereafter, be poured into the balance of his sins, until he may sink down to the regions of everlasting torment, overborne by their weight!'
'So you are one of those,' said Megret, with embarrassed mockery, 'who, from your passion for the romantic and marvellous, will have it that no man of consequence can die except by assassination! In consequence of the rashness with which the king exposed himself to the fire of the enemy, it would rather have been matter of astonishment had he escaped alive. The balls flew so thick, that the agency of assassins was not necessary to account for his death.'
'I have my convictions!' cried the pastor, in the heat of his indignation, 'and those convictions are neither to be sneered nor subtilized away! God, however, who proves the heart and the reins, must pass judgment upon the concealed guilt, and punish the murderer according to his deserts--here, through the worm that never dies, and there, in the fire that is never quenched! Amen.'
'You are pale, colonel!' cried Arwed, suddenly giving Megret a searching look. 'Are you ill?'
'I was heated when I entered the church,' answered Megret in a faint voice, placing his hand upon his forehead; 'and this place seems to me to be very cold. I feel as though suffering from an ague fit, which however a few moments in the open air will dissipate.'
He retired with uncertain steps. All followed him with looks of surprise and inquiry, and a long pause ensued.
'Is it now your excellency's pleasure,' said the pastor to the governor, 'to ascend the church tower and thence, like Charles XI, observe the circular course of the day-star?'
'I thank you, sir pastor,' answered the governor. 'I have already looked me out a place upon the level ground, where we can better enjoy the beauties of nature together with this rare spectacle, than from so high a point of view, and you will do me a pleasure by accompanying us.'
The pastor accepted the invitation. The party left the church, and, without encountering Megret on their way, entered a boat in readiness for the occasion, and were conveyed to a small island which appeared to swim in the stream, opposite the town of Tornea. A solitary house, surrounded by some small huts, and a wind-mill, stood near the landing-place. The travelers, ascending, laid themselves upon the bank, their faces turned towards the sun, and silently enjoyed the view, at once attractive and awful, there presented to them.
The still, clear waters of the Tornea and Munio, upon which white fishing sails were gliding here and there, blushed in the rays of the evening sun, and were adorned on either side by high bushy banks. In the middle ground, the city, with its spires, was sweetly reflected in the peaceful waters. The back ground was closed by bare and sterile heights which were linked into each other like a chain, and concealed the opening through which the united streams rolled on in their course toward the sea.
At the edge of the horizon, behind the city, shone the nocturnal sun with rays that with difficulty dissipated the vapors collected by the evening air, as the forerunners of a night, which, on this occasion, was not permitted to make its appearance. The illumination had something dismal about it, for the magnificent sphere seemed to have lost the substance of its splendor as at the time of an annular eclipse, and threw, but a pale light upon land and water. The silence of death prevailed over the face of all nature. The mills upon the height behind Tornea, as well as that upon the island, were standing still,--the bewildered birds had flown to their roosts,--and the whole less resembled an actual world, than a landscape in a magic glass, lighted by a magic sun, which lacked the powerful life of nature. Meanwhile Tornea's church bell tolled the midnight hour.
'Great and wonderful are the works of the Lord!' suddenly exclaimed the devout pastor; 'and he, who considers them aright, has great pleasure therein.'
'I also adore the great Creator in the exhibition of his terrors,' said Arwed. 'But I must acknowledge that the silent, friendly, and dusky star-lit night of my own Upland, is dearer to me than this wonderful day. A sun which seems always to approach its setting, and yet never sets, but remains mournfully suspended between life and death, is in truth no joyous sight.'
'An image of my poor native country!' said the governor, soliloquising.
'And of my fate!' whispered Christine, almost inaudibly, as she leaned her weeping face upon Arwed's shoulder.
At this moment a row-boat from Tornea approached the island. Megret sprang out of it. 'Despatches from Umea!' cried he. 'The courier appeared to come in great haste; wherefore I took it upon myself to bring them directly to you.'
'You bring me nothing good,' said the governor, forebodingly, as he hastily opened the letter. 'As I conjectured! Let us start! We must this night commence our homeward journey.'
'In heaven's name, father, what is the matter?' asked Christine, in sympathy with her father's alarm.
'The Danes have invaded Bahuslehn,' answered the governor; 'the Russians have landed in Upland. Unless God perform miracles in our favor, Sweden is lost. Let us hence to Umea.'
As Arwed entered the castle of Gyllensten he was met by old Brodin, who, with a face highly expressive of sorrow and condolence, bowed to him in silence.
'What do you bring me, old honesty?' asked Arwed, with alarm' 'Not sad news, I hope? How does my father?'
'The lord counsellor's excellency,' answered Brodin, 'is as well as could be desired, and sends his kind regards to you. I am charged with an important commission, for the execution of which I must beg a private audience.'
'It concerns Georgina!' cried Arwed, with a sudden presentiment, and without awaiting Brodin's answer he led him into his private chamber. 'Now speak!' cried he with vehemence. 'I am prepared to hear all.'
'Were you a weak-nerved lady,' commenced Brodin, slowly drawing a letter from the pocket of his traveling coat, 'it might be necessary to preface the unpleasant intelligence of which I am the bearer with a fitting preamble. But you are a stout young man, as well as a brave soldier, and therefore I may venture to spare you the torment of fear and expectation.'
'Silence!' cried Arwed, tearing the letter from his hand. 'It is her writing!' he exclaimed, breaking the seal, and then proceeded to read:
'MY NOBLE GYLLENSTIERNA!
'The sympathy you continue to evince for the poor Georgina, blesses, while it rends her heart. Notwithstanding the clearness with which I explained myself, you are yet unwilling to consider our connection dissolved. Nothing therefore remains for me but to effect a last and eternal separation. I could have desired to spend the remainder of my life wedded to the remembrance of my first and only love; but you have yourself rendered this impossible. 'While I live, lives also your hope of one day possessing me!' By this resolution of your true heart, you have made it my duty to become dead to you for this world. Your father wishes to place the hand of his only son in that of his love-deserving niece, and thereby secure a continuation of the power and splendor of your noble house. I was the only obstruction to the accomplishment of this rational wish. I must not so continue. I could not answer to myself for destroying the welfare of a youth, whom I would so willingly have made happy by my faithful love, by my irresolution. To make you free, I have bound myself. To spare you the sacrifice you were determined to make, I have sacrificed myself. Since yesterday I have been the wife of a worthy man, whose character I must respect, and whom I could have loved, had I never known you. In his arms I may find, with the peace which results from the performance of duty, that quiet happiness which can result from a marriage, in the contracting of which passion had no voice. May you also be truly happy! May you deserve that happiness through obedience to your father's wishes! Believe me, Arwed, there is something better in this life than the intoxication of passion. I feel it in this heavy hour. Think of me sometimes, not only without anger, but with tranquil kindness, as you would of a beloved being who has preceded you to that eternal world where you hope to see her once again. I shall never forget you.
'GEORGINA VON EYBEN.'
Poor Arwed sank upon a seat as if annihilated. The faithful Brodin observed him with looks of the deepest sympathy. All at once the youth's eyes began to flash with savage fury. He sprung up, and, seizing the old man with a lion's rage, thundered in his ears, 'this whole affair is a fable devised for my deception!'
'Holy Savior! what is it you think?' cried the trembling Brodin.
'I have read in many old tales,' cried Arwed, with bitter anguish, 'of pretended marriages, and forged letters of renunciation, by which hearts have been artfully torn asunder, that would else have remained eternally united.'
'Why, hey, count Arwed,' said Brodin chidingly, 'how can you so misjudge your noble father as to suppose him guilty of such an offence?'
'I know,' answered Arwed, 'that my father considers the dissolution of my connection with Georgina a matter of the utmost importance. A counsellor of the realm stands high enough to permit himself to do many things that would carry a common citizen to a criminal's dungeon. The whole may be a specimen of the newest Swedish political management.'
'Believe what you please, major!' angrily exclaimed Brodin. 'The letter you have just read, I received from the hands of the writer, when I was with her in obedience to your father's command.'
'Brodin!' said the agitated Arwed, 'you are an old man! So near the grave, you will not defile your soul with a lie; therefore answer me, honest and true, as you have been through the whole course of your long life--is Georgina actually married?'
'By my God and his holy gospel!' cried the gray old man, solemnly placing his hand upon his heart, 'I was myself, by her command, in the cathedral church of Lubec, and saw her married to the imperial counsellor von Eyben.'
'It is then true!' sighed Arwed, again sinking back into his seat.
Brodin approached, with humid eyes, to speak some words of consolation,--but Arwed motioned him back, and the old man left the room in silent sorrow.
As Arwed was still sitting in his chamber, his arms convulsively folded upon his breast, as if he would stifle his inward grief by the outward pressure, with large tear-drops occasionally rolling down his pallid cheeks, a stranger suddenly entered the room. He was enveloped in a gray traveling cloak, and his hat was drawn down over his eyes. Stepping directly in front of Arwed, he threw off his cloak and cap.
'Swedenborg!' exclaimed Arwed, in a languid tone.
'The old _Fatum_,' spoke the seer, 'has again most unhappily kept troth with my presentiments. I see you again in the heaviest hour of your life, as I expected. But what I could not have expected is, to see you sinking under your sorrow. It becomes a man to struggle manfully against this evil fiend, and gloriously to vanquish; not to lay down his arms before him, like a wounded and disabled combatant.'
'You have never loved!' ejaculated Arwed; 'you cannot know the anguish which rends my heart.'
'I have loved!' exclaimed Swedenborg, with radiant eyes; 'I yet love, and with a passion which shall be eternal! Not, indeed, a perishable woman, but the celestial _Sophiam_! Would to God that you also would choose her for your bride. How vain and trifling would all the earthly sorrows which now afflict you, then appear.'
'Do you know the stroke I have received?' asked Arwed, passionately.
'I know it,' answered Swedenborg mysteriously, 'as well as most things which concern you. Your image has often floated before my inward vision, and the spirits have often conversed with me of you.'
'All my misery,' rejoined Arwed, 'comes from the cold, malicious Ulrika. Her barbarity has torn from my brows the garland with which true love would have crowned me.'
'Sweden's vassal,' cried Swedenborg with solemn earnestness; 'blaspheme not Sweden's queen!'
'How!' cried Arwed, with astonishment, '_You_ take her part? You, who prophecied wo to Sweden under her reign?'
'That is still my opinion,' rejoined Swedenborg. 'But since Ulrika, by the unanimous voice of the people, sits upon her father's throne, she must be to us an object of veneration only. If she has done evil, she will not escape its punishment; and as the Lord oftentimes takes care to punish the sinner directly in that wherein he sinned, so perhaps will the man for whom she has done every thing, at some time become an instrument of divine wrath and take the crown from her head to place it on his own, repaying her with the basest treachery.'
'Alas, her crimes had wings,' complained Arwed; 'and this requital creeps snail-like after them.'
'Know then, you, who are so eager for vengeance,' indignantly rejoined Swedenborg, 'that the fate of Sweden aids you. Your country is at this moment the prey of her two bitterest enemies, and Ulrika may soon be a queen without a realm.'
'I had already heard of the threatened invasions of the Danes and Russians,' answered Arwed; 'but I did not apprehend such disastrous results.'
'They have already entered,' rejoined Swedenborg. 'Bahuslehn is as good as conquered. Stroemstadt and Marstrand have already surrendered to the Danes; Carlsten has by this time fallen; and the Russians are raging like wild beasts in the eastern part of the kingdom. Norrkoeping, Nykoeping, and many other cities, hundreds of noblemen's seats, and thousands of hamlets, are already in ashes. Heaps of slaughtered animals infect the atmosphere; the youths of our land are borne by Russian ships to ignominious slavery; and, while we are speaking, general Lascy is moving with a strong army directly upon Stockholm.'
Arwed's blue eyes flashed. His heroic form became more erect. He involuntarily grasped the hilt of his sword, and moved towards the door.
'Whither would you go?' Swedendorg asked, in a kindly tone.
'To the garden, into the free air!' quickly answered Arwed. 'It is becoming too warm for me here. Besides, I need solitude, that I may be able to form a proper determination.'
'I know it,' said Swedenborg. 'You will resolve as becomes you, and so, farewell. The Lord be with your sword!'
'We shall see each other again before I go,' said Arwed.
'I must travel still further to-day,' answered Swedenborg. 'I am now going to the Nasaalpe lead mines. I must afterwards visit the iron and copper mines in Tornea-Lappmark, and in a month I must be on my way back.'
'Possibly we may meet in Stockholm,' said Arwed, forgetting his banishment, 'and heaven grant it may be under better auspices!'
'_Quo fata trahunt, retrahuntque sequamur!_' cried Swedenborg with unction, and the youth hastened out.
'A noble spirit!' said Swedenborg, looking with complacency at his retreating form. 'It lay prostrate, sickened with love's pain and bitter hate; and behold, with only two drops of that steel-tincture, and his country's need, its strength revives, and labors, and throws off the _materiam peccantem_, and his heart is as pure, and fresh, and strong, as ever it was. Hail to the physician of the soul, who finds the seat of the disease; but thrice hail to the patient whose good disposition aids the cure.'
As Arwed was striding back and forth in the most remote and darkly shaded avenue of the garden, buried in his own reflections, colonel Megret met him with a disturbed countenance. 'Time presses,' said he with eagerness; 'I must speak openly with you, major. That I love your cousin, you must long since have known--yet how fervently, you could not know. The delicate gallantry which we Frenchmen dedicate to the ladies, and the fear of affrighting or distressing her by the outbreaking of my passion, have thrown a veil over the fire which consumes me. I now confess to you that I could commit murder to possess her; I must win her hand or die.'
'Nevertheless, colonel, I do not understand,' answered Arwed with displeasure, 'why you confide all this _to me_, nor why you confide it _now_.'
'The new emergencies of the war call me back to the army,' said Megret. 'I set out even this very night. Meanwhile I wish to secure to myself here at least the _statum quo_. You love me not, major; that I very well know, but at any rate you are not my rival; you are Christine's near relative and a man of honor. Whatever you may think of me, we must agree in this, that Mac Donalbain is not deserving of your cousin.'
'That I am very willing to allow,' answered Arwed. 'But, I hope, there can never be a question of such a connection. Had Christine really a weakness for that man, so noble and strong a mind as hers would be easily reclaimed from such an aberration.'
'You consider the matter too lightly,' said Megret with great earnestness. 'I myself hoped and doubted long, and left unemployed the means at my command for banishing that bad man. I was indeed thereto prompted by that miserable vanity which induces a man to wish to conquer by his own merits and to scorn the use of other weapons. But the real state of affairs is now placed in so clear a light that my eyes are pained by it. This Mac Donalbain is a monster, and Christine loves him. Forbearance would now be madness, as the honor and happiness of this house hang upon a hair.'
'And what would you do?' anxiously asked Arwed.
'That shall you directly hear,' answered Megret; 'for there, most opportunely, comes the Scot. His destiny leads him towards me. May I only gain sufficient composure to roast the villain _à petit feu_, as we call it. It would yet be some little satisfaction for the constant torments of jealousy for which I may thank him since I first sighed for the countess.'
'Megret turned away and proceeded some steps down the avenue, and on his return all traits of anger had disappeared from his face, and a cold, smooth smile was substituted. Meanwhile the Scot approached and courteously greeted them.
'You come just in time, sir Mac Donalbain,' said Megret in an apparently friendly manner, 'to enlighten me upon a matter of some interest. According to your name and your own assurance you are indeed a Scot, and can give us information from the best sources relative to the manners and customs of your dear fatherland.'
'Why not!' asked the Scot with a forced smile.
'Now will you please to inform me, worthy sir,' said Megret, familiarly approaching him, 'what, in your highlands, is the exact meaning of the term, 'children of the mist?'
Starting and shrinking at this question, Mac Donalbain answered only with a deadly glance.
'They also call them 'children of night,' added Megret in a quiet and seemingly friendly manner. 'The terms are said to apply to those poor people who, at variance with the civil authorities, shelter themselves in rocks and caves, occasionally making excursions into the lowlands, plundering and burning dwellings, driving off cattle, now and then perpetrating a murder, and getting hanged at last.'
'You speak of the robber clans of the highlands,' said Mac Donalbain, struggling to preserve his equanimity.
'_C'est cela!_' cried Megret, nodding waggishly; 'and I reckon upon your goodness for some details about them. It would be very interesting to me to compare your children of the mist with a somewhat similar class in this country. In Scotland, I am told, even the nobility do not consider it disreputable to march at the head of such expeditions against the flocks and herds of the lowlands. They make no secret of them, and hold the gallows to be as good a bed of honor as the battle field. Every country has its peculiar customs and code of morals. The leaders of our robber bands are far more delicate. They, at least blacken their faces, renouncing the glory due to their heroic deeds, and wash them clean again when they go into honest company.'
With these words Mac Donalbain's face became pale as death. His eyes rolled as if they would start from their sockets, and his teeth audibly chattered. At length he indistinctly stammered, 'I do not, indeed, understand your words; but your envenomed glances are the true interpreters of your meaning. They at least make it clear that you intend to insult me; and more is unnecessary to induce a noble Scot to demand instant satisfaction.'
'It is very flattering to me, noble sir,' answered Megret, 'to receive an invitation to the field of honor from you; but before I can accept it, you must satisfy me that I shall really preserve, and not lose my honor, by going out with you. My comrades in the army are somewhat nice in such matters, and certain occupations render a man forever unworthy a gentleman's sword.'
'Do you refuse to give me satisfaction?' fiercely asked Mac Donalbain, stepping toward Megret, with his hand, apparently grasping a weapon, in his bosom.
Meanwhile Megret had drawn a pistol from his pocket, cocked it, and presented its muzzle to Mac Donalbain. 'One step nearer, a suspicious movement even,' cried he, 'and this bullet pierces your heart. You know the accuracy of my aim.'
Mac Donalbain drew back, fixing his eyes upon his relentless enemy with a wild and vacant stare.
'We will quickly put an end to this unpleasant interview,' continued Megret, with frightful coolness. 'By all this you must perceive that I know you. Long since might I have denounced you to the civil authorities, and I have had more than one personal inducement to do so. Because I became troublesome to you, your myrmidons attempted my murder during the ride to Tornea, and, had it not been for the major's interference, would have succeeded. But magnanimity is the weakness of Frenchmen. You are pardoned, and I merely command you instantly to leave this castle, never to return. If I ever again behold you here, or within a circuit of fifty miles from this, the robber-captain shall be brought to justice and suffer the penalties of the laws.'
Unable to speak, and with a countenance such as satan might be supposed to have assumed directly after his fall into the abyss, Mac Donalbain rushed forth, and Megret proceeded in triumph to the castle.
'It is still problematical,' soliloquized Arwed, 'with which of the two Christine would be most miserable. I become more and more doubtful with regard to Megret. The Scot received but his deserts, although it is no honest man who assumes the duty of executioner,--for no one but a finished villain could have taken such pleasure in stretching his victim upon the rack.'
His uncle now hastily approached him from the castle, with an open letter in his hand, and a face expressive of delighted anticipation.
'Have you spoken with old Brodin?' he anxiously asked.
'I have,' answered Arwed; and the recollection of the loss of Georgina drew a deep sigh from his bosom.
'You are now wholly free, Arwed,' cried the uncle, with heartfelt love. 'May I hope that in a beloved nephew I may soon embrace a son-in-law?'
Arwed, perceiving whither this question must lead, foresaw the unpleasant scene which the contest between his uncle's will and Christine's passion would produce, and remained silent.
'Do not fear,' his uncle anxiously added, 'that your consent will be extorted. Read this letter. Your father desires this union, but he leaves your will free. Yet should I think, that as your beloved has loosed the chains which bound you, you certainly would make some effort to gratify an old man who loves you with his whole heart, and knows not better how to secure the happiness of his only child than by placing her hand in yours.'
'I gratefully acknowledge your paternal goodness,' answered Arwed, evasively. 'But I beg of you to leave me time for self-examination. My sorrow is yet new, and for Christine I may safely affirm that a union with me is very far from her thoughts. Besides, I need time to familiarize myself with my new position, and enable me to come to a decision.'
'I know my daughter,' cried the uncle. 'There was for a time something strange and adverse in her conduct which often perplexed me; but in the main her heart is good; and a thousand trifling things have convinced me that she likes you. Upon the word of a knight, she will not say nay!'
'Consider at least the circumstances of the times,' said Arwed. 'The moment when Sweden is bleeding under the swords of her enemies, when she is struggling for her very existence, is surely no time for tying love-knots. Besides, I am resolved to depart to-morrow morning for the army. Should I come back after the close of the war, it will then be time to speak of this affair.'
'_You_ going to the army!' exclaimed the uncle, with astonishment. 'Have you forgotten that you have been dismissed the service and banished from the capital?'
'I will serve as a volunteer,' cried Arwed with patriotic zeal, 'in one of the lowest grades--as a common soldier--if it must be so. If I may not live for Sweden, they cannot but permit me to die for her!'
'Die! and for this queen?' asked the uncle.
'What care I for the queen?' answered Arwed. 'I fight for my father-land, and to protect the tomb of that heroic king whose life I was not allowed by fate to defend.'
'Noble man!' cried the uncle. 'You shame me. The prospect of good fortune for my house caused me to forget the miseries of my country, while you are ready to shed your blood in the service of a government which has thwarted your dearest hopes. Well, act according to the dictates of your heart. Something must also be done to satisfy mine, before you leave us, and that even now, for here comes my daughter.'
'Alas!' sighed Arwed, as the pale and trembling maiden slowly approached them.
'My father, you have commanded my presence,' said she, with a failing voice.
'Arwed's beloved,' answered the governor, 'has married another. He leaves us in the morning, once more to meet the enemies of Sweden. You know my wishes, Christine. He must leave Gyllensten only as your affianced lover; the marriage can follow in more peaceable and happier times. So extend to him your hand and give him the troth-kiss.'
'Oh, my God!' stammered Christine, wringing her hands.
'Why this affectation?' asked her father with displeasure.
'You afflict your daughter,' said Arwed, and then turning to Christine, 'calm yourself, cousin! this storm has not been raised by me. Bound or free, I will never permit your heart to be constrained.'
'Nothing is more intolerable,' angrily interposed the governor, 'than a young knight's feigning a coldness towards the other sex which is foreign to his heart. However strong have been, or may now be, your feelings for Georgina, yet it has not escaped a father's eye that my daughter is not an object of indifference to you. The glances which you now and then cast upon her when you think yourself unobserved, the warm interest which you take in her conversation, even the reproofs you often give her, have but the more clearly proved the state of your feelings.'
Arwed cast his eyes bashfully down.
'And, not to mention many other indications,' continued the old man, addressing himself to Christine, 'what impelled you to mount your horse so quickly when Megret brought us the news of Arwed's danger? When a maiden breaks through all obstacles to fight for a young man, one may confidently swear she has an attachment for him.'
'Oh, my father!' cried Christine in the deepest affliction, hiding her face in his bosom.
'Then give him the hand which would have fought for him,' commanded the father, moving to lead his daughter to Arwed's arms. She tore herself from him. 'I cannot! by heaven, I cannot!' shrieked the despairing girl.
'You cannot?' asked the governor, angrily. 'And that you are in earnest, is confirmed by your looks. Now, then, my daughter, give your father a reason why you cannot obey his will, which was never swayed by warmer affection than at this moment. I may bear the contradiction if it be supported upon reasonable grounds, but I am not disposed to become the plaything of your caprice and obstinacy. Therefore answer, what have you against this union?'
Christine remained silently sobbing and wringing her hands.
'This silence answers me more clearly than you may wish,' said the governor with grave significancy. 'It is an acknowledgment that you are ashamed of the cause of your refusal, and clearly explains many things which have hitherto appeared dark to me. These tears confess your conviction that your foolish wishes can never be realized, and save me the trouble of proving it to you. I spare you the reproaches your conduct merits. Let the past be buried in oblivion. Render yourself worthy of this kindness by obedience. Give your hand to Arwed, my daughter.'
Christine gave Arwed an imploring look, but neither moved nor spoke.
The old man knit his eye-brows. His eyes flashed, and he angrily lifted up his hands. 'Shall I curse my disobedient child?' he thundered in her ears.
'Father!' groaned Christine, sinking to his feet.
'No further, my uncle!' cried Arwed, with generous anger. 'I should not deserve the name of a man if I could permit a noble maiden to be forced into my arms by a father's curse. The first severe word addressed to your daughter on my account, banishes me forever from Gyllensten. You have my word of honor for it!'
'Can you withstand such generosity, my daughter?' asked the governor, bending over Christine with mingled anger, love and anxiety.
'God is my witness,' cried the maiden, 'how willingly my heart would reconcile itself with your desire. Grant me a short respite for reflection. In the morning you shall know my determination.'
'Grant her the respite,' earnestly begged Arwed. 'Overhastening is a species of compulsion.'
The governor raised his daughter and looked sharply into her eyes. 'Does no artifice lie hidden in this request?' asked he with emphasis. 'Will you really explain yourself in the morning, openly and honestly, without equivocation, as becomes a noble Swedish maiden and my daughter?'
'By the holy evangelists!' cried Christine, almost out of her senses, 'in the morning you shall learn my determination, and with God be the result.'
'Respite the poor maiden for to-night,' entreated Arwed. 'The struggles of her soul have agitated her too violently, and your words were too sharp and heavy. Should your daughter's health give way under her sufferings, you would repent it too late.'
'Go, then, Christine,' said the governor, 'and bring me in the morning such a decision as I may be able to receive.'
Christine kissed his hand in silence, and then leaned, weeping, against a tree.
'Yes! children are the gift of heaven!' said the old man to Arwed, 'and the joys they bring us are the best in life. But when they are given in anger, they become the most terrible scourges in his hands, through the sorrows they cause.'
He walked slowly towards the castle, and Christine suddenly approached Arwed, threw her arms passionately around him, impressed a burning kiss upon his lips, and sobbed, 'farewell, Arwed,--do not despise me! Oh that we had sooner met!'
She hastened away, and Arwed found himself alone.
The morning had dawned. The governor, with Arwed, had accompanied Megret down to the courtyard, where his horses stood ready saddled for the journey, and the traveler held out his hand to the governor to say farewell.
'Allow me to give you a well meant warning at parting,' said the colonel, dejectedly. 'Suffer not this Scot to remain longer at the castle,--he is not worthy of breathing the same air with you. If you would know more of him, ask your nephew. He witnessed a conversation which I held yesterday with that man. My duty calls me to the tumult of war. Should I ever return, I shall have a request to prefer to your heart, and shall rely upon the friendship of which you have hitherto deemed me worthy, for its favorable reception. Commend the remembrance of a man who adores her to your charming daughter. Say to her: notwithstanding the cruelty with which she has refused me a last farewell, her image will accompany me to the field of danger and incite me to victory or bless me in death!'
He overlooked the doubting shake of the head which preceded the answer the governor was about to make, threw himself upon his horse and rode rapidly out of the castle gate.
'The evening of my life will be clouded,' said the governor to Arwed; 'and already I seem to see the lightning flash which is to destroy my last earthly happiness. God's will be done! Is Mac Donalbain yet in the castle?' he asked of his steward, who approached at that moment.
'When he came out of the garden yesterday evening,' answered the steward, 'he merely took his gun and sporting pouch from the dining room, spoke a few words to the countess, and then rushed like a madman down the mountain. Since then I have seen no more of him. Something very disagreeable must have happened to him, for no one could look upon his face without terror.'
'You must relate to me the conversation which Megret had with Mac Donalbain,' said the governor; and then turning to the steward he asked him, 'is my daughter yet awake?'
'All is yet still in the chamber of the countess,' answered the latter.
'Let her be awakened,' commanded the governor. 'The breakfast waits for her.'
The steward departed, and the governor returned with Arwed to the lower hall. There, for a long time, they walked up and down the room together. Arwed dreaded lifting the veil under which the trouble was concealed, and his uncle, who remarked his reluctance, had not courage to repeat his request. Meanwhile the breakfast was brought in. The governor silently filled the goblets, looked occasionally toward the door, sighed, seized the cup mechanically and raised it to his lips, and then set it down again without drinking.
'Am I not like a child who is trembling with fear in anticipation of a ghost story?' he at length said, with a forced jest. 'Courage! narrate it Arwed.'
Arwed was about to obey, when an anxious movement was heard without, and, pale as death, the steward re-entered with a billet in his hand.
'The countess is nowhere to be found,' stammered he. 'Her bed has not been disturbed. She was in the garden late last evening, and sent her chambermaid to bed.'
'What is that?' cried the governor rushing upon the steward. 'What holdest thou there?'
'A billet for your excellency,' answered the latter, 'I found it in the chamber of the countess.'
The governor seized, opened, and read it. As the oak of a thousand years yields to the force of its own weight when the axe has severed its roots, wavers, and finally rushes crackling to the ground; so wavered and fell that noble old man, whose mental agony was happily relieved by a suspension of consciousness.
Whilst the steward and hastening servants were endeavoring to recall him to life, Arwed raised the paper which had fallen from his trembling hand, and read as follows:
'Alike unworthy to call myself Arwed's wife and your daughter, I have not courage to meet your just anger. I therefore follow the man whose wife I already am in the sight of God. By the memory of my noble mother I conjure you curse me not. May you pardon me in another world!'
'Unhappy parent!' sighed Arwed with deep emotion.
Meantime the strong old man, who had partially recovered, raised himself up in his chair, and his first glance fell upon Arwed.
'You have read?' he asked, and as Arwed answered in the affirmative, he stretched out his hand to receive the billet, which Arwed with some hesitation handed to him. Having motioned to his people to withdraw, he again read it through.
'No, I will not curse thee, unhappy girl!' said he coldly, and tearing the note. 'An ungrateful child bears already the curse of heaven in her heart, and where love is dead the flames of anger find no nourishment. You hope I shall pardon you in another world! It is possible I may, if in that world earthly conceptions of honor disappear, and a woman without virtue is no longer a disgrace to her sex.'
'Will you not make an attempt,' asked Arwed, 'to tear the poor victim from her seducer? Let us seek her! Your arm reaches further than she can have flown in the course of the night.'
'Why should I?' said the governor, with listless anger. 'Should I bring her back, I should be compelled to take the life of the villain, whose wife she already is in the sight of God, and she would have nothing left on earth. Let them go!'
A deep and awful silence followed. The clattering steps of Arwed's horses, which Knut was leading out, awoke the uncle from his stupefaction.
'Your horses are ready,' said he, rising up. 'Go, and God be with you!'
'It is hard for me to leave you in this state of mind,' said Arwed.
'Your country calls you,' answered the governor, 'and I may venture to call myself a man. I have given proof of it. I have experienced the worst that can befall me, and sorrow has not killed me.'
'My noble, my unhappy uncle!' cried Arwed, sinking upon the old man's bosom.
'Fight bravely, Arwed,' said the uncle, 'but risk not your life with foolhardiness. You are my only heir. I know your disposition, that you disregard wealth, but the fact will serve to remind you that here lives an unhappy father of whom you are the last earthly prop.'
'God send you peace!' cried Arwed, overpowered by sorrow, and rushing forth, he soon, with his faithful servant, found himself upon the high road.
Late in the autumn of the same year the governor was again sitting in the hall of his forefathers, whose statues remained, hung with mourning crape. Before him stood a chess board, and, having no companion, he was amusing himself by playing the games contained in a book which he held in his hand. The unhappy man had altered much. Each successive week had left the wrinkles of a year upon his face, and it was a sad sight to see how he exerted himself to dispel painful recollections by a forced attention to the intricate course of the game.
At that moment the footsteps of horses were heard in the court, and before he could hasten to the window, Arwed entered the hall and rushed into his arms.
'Welcome, my son!' cried the uncle, perusing his features with intense interest; 'though I am sorry to see the expression of dark despondency which hangs upon your face. The warrior who has done his duty, must return home from the strife with joy.'
'That depends upon the nature and result of the strife, my good uncle. But my whole life has been nothing but a long chain of frustrated wishes and abortive plans. The myrtle-wreath was torn from my brow, the laurel withers even while I grasp it, and I have failed to obtain the cypress crown.'
'Is the war over?' asked the uncle.
'For the present, yes,' answered Arwed, 'until it may please our enemies to recommence it--for there is no talk of peace either with the Danes or Russians.'
'Not with the nearest and most powerful of our enemies?' indignantly cried the governor. 'Woman's rule is everywhere the same--too weak for resistance, too wilful for reconciliation. Poor Sweden!'
'Rhenskioeld,' said Arwed, 'was already in full retreat before the Danes, when I joined him. I went also to the army which covered Stockholm; but when I arrived the Russians were drawing off their forces. Desolation and pillage was the object of their landing, and most fully and fearfully was it accomplished. We indeed followed the retiring enemy and had some trifling contests with the rear guard, but when the English fleet under Norris approached our coasts, the barbarians quickly embarked and left the country with immense booty.'
'To have had the desire and to have made an effort to save your country, is deserving of honor!' cried the uncle, extending his hand. 'Therefore once again welcome, my young hero.'
Arwed gave him his left hand, and the awkwardness with which he did it, drew the attention of his uncle to the fact.
'Why do you withhold from me the hand which has wielded the sword in defence of Sweden?' he asked with surprise.
'The impossibility of using it must be my excuse,' answered Arwed with a sorrowful glance towards his right arm, which was concealed under his coat.
'What is this?' cried the governor aghast. 'Are you wounded in the arm?'
'A Russian canister-shot shattered my hand in the last engagement,' answered Arwed, 'and I was compelled to have it taken off at the wrist.'
'My poor son!' exclaimed the sympathizing uncle. 'That is a great misfortune. The laurels of victory are some compensation for wounds received in battle; but to be crippled in a miserable unimportant skirmish, is the most dreadful thing imaginable.'
'It is indeed, uncle!' cried Arwed; 'and I can now say with the king of France at Pavia, that I have lost every thing but honor!'
'You are right,' replied the old man with a tremulous voice, his thoughts recurring to his fugitive daughter. 'Happy they who can say as much!' and with a deep sigh his white head sank upon his laboring bosom.
New footsteps in the court yard interrupted the sad pause, and immediately afterwards Megret entered the hall, with a face yet more gloomy than Arwed's.
'I have returned once more,' said he, in a singular tone, as he greeted the uncle and nephew.
'I am glad to see you, colonel,' answered the governor. 'Gyllensten has become very lonesome and desolate, and I am glad you have once more obtained a furlough in these warlike times.'
'The queen's grace has given me leave of absence forever,' answered Megret with bitterness. 'I am dismissed the service.'
'Dismissed the service!' repeated the governor. 'It must be as major general then. I congratulate you.'
'I cannot accept your congratulations,' said Megret.
'I have received my dismission unwished for, without advancement, and without pension.'
'You jest!' cried the governor; 'how could it be possible?'
'I know no other reason,' answered Megret, 'than the obligations under which I have laid the queen and her husband. Great obligations! It has cost me much to serve them, very much! perhaps too much! The queen might possibly have despaired of being able suitably to reward me, and has therefore chosen the most convenient way in which the great of the earth reward past services. She repays with ingratitude!'
'These are strange observations, colonel,' said Arwed distrustfully, 'and you would do us a favor by giving a commentary upon the mysterious text.'
'Let us speak of something more agreeable,' said Megret, drawing his hand over his forehead, as though he would have wiped something from it. 'How does the charming countess?'
The governor trembled with agitation, and looked beseechingly at Arwed, as if he would have called him to his aid.
Just as Arwed was about to answer for him the servant entered to announce a Laplander from the parish of Lyksale, who had a secret and important communication to make to the governor.
'Conduct him to my cabinet!' commanded the latter, rising from his seat, and glad of the interruption.
'You have not yet answered my question,' said Megret; but the governor merely pointed to Arwed as he went out.
'Am I directed to you for my answer?' he asked Arwed with anxious interest. 'This evasion of my simple question surprises me, and would seem to indicate some misfortune. I hope no mischance has befallen Christine?'
'She left the castle on the night of your departure,' answered Arwed.
'She must have fled, then, with the miserable Mac Donalbain!' cried the enraged Megret.
'Probably,' answered Arwed. 'She did not indeed name her seducer in her farewell note to her father, but all appearances point to him as the guilty one.'
'And has no attempt been made to bring her back and punish the miscreant for his villany?' asked Megret.
'The father has renounced his daughter forever,' answered Arwed, 'and I must beseech you never more to mention her in his presence. It overpowers the unhappy man to be reminded of her.'
'This is a consequence of my fatal delay!' cried Megret wildly, and beating his forehead. 'There is now nothing, nothing more in this world which can give me joy. My honor wounded by unworthy treatment, my love scorned and betrayed, what now remains for me?'
'A consciousness of rectitude, colonel,' said Arwed earnestly. 'It is a firm rock of safety amid the storms of life.'
'Consciousness of rectitude!' cried Megret with frightful vehemence, and then drawing a deep sigh, he hastened from the apartment.
'Some horrid secret lies in this man's breast, like a sleeping tiger in his lair,' said Arwed. 'Wo to me, if I should be called to draw it forth.'
Arwed had just risen the next morning, when the old steward came to him with a troubled countenance. 'By your permission,' asked he with great deference, 'did my lord inform you when he should return?'
'Is my uncle absent?' asked Arwed with astonishment. 'I knew nothing of it. When he declined coming to the table, last evening, I supposed it was merely because he wished to be alone.'
'After the private audience which he granted the Laplander last evening,' proceeded the steward, 'he ordered a horse to be given him, and had his favorite brown saddled for himself with great privacy. The Laplander was to go before him and show him the way. He charged me strictly to keep his absence secret from every one. But as the night has passed and he is not yet returned, my anxiety got the better of me, and I felt compelled to inform you of the circumstance, even at the risk of his displeasure. You will know better than I what is necessary to be done in the case.'
'What direction did my uncle take?' eagerly asked Arwed, putting on his hunting coat.
'Along the right bank of the river,' answered the steward, 'upon the road which leads by Umea. Some Laplanders who were fishing in the river state that they saw both of the riders as they passed the ford of the Lais Elf, and then struck off to the right into the pine forest on the borders of our Lappmark.'
'And you really have no conjecture as to the object of this journey?' Arwed further asked.
'Conjecture, indeed!' answered the steward. 'I suspect that our lord's object was to obtain information of the robber band, who are again spreading confusion and dismay through the border forests. Who knows but he is on the look-out for Black Naddock himself?'
'Impossible!' cried Arwed with alarm. 'That is no business for his years. It is too dangerous.'
'Ah, dear major,' said the steward, sorrowfully, 'since the countess Christine has left us, our poor lord no longer cares any thing about his life, and perhaps a bullet from one of the brigands' rifles would be right welcome to him.'
'May God and our true service preserve the noble man from such an end!' cried Arwed, taking his gun, hunting-knife and shooting-bag. 'I will go and reconnoitre. If it be God's will, I shall return in the morning with some definite intelligence. Until then, let every one keep perfect silence. If my uncle has fallen into wicked hands, every thing will depend upon taking the villains by surprise. Should I not come back by the time I mentioned, you will then inform the sheriff of what has occurred, that he may save or avenge his worthy chief.'
'God bless your undertaking, noble count!' cried the steward, kissing Arwed's hand, as he hastened from the castle.
Arwed had waded through the Lais Elf about a thousand yards from where it falls into the Umea, and turning into the pine forest to the right from the road, he proceeded onward upon a winding path. All was silent and dreary around him, with the exception of the rustling of the cold autumn breeze in the tops of the tall pines, and this dismal stillness added yet more to the feeling of desolation in his soul. 'No trace of animals or men!' said he to himself. 'No sign or token which tells me I am upon the right track! Is this silence of nature an omen that this well intended undertaking, like all its elder brothers, will die in its birth?'
During this soliloquy he had arrived at a larger opening in the midst of the forest, and now the dull tinkling of a small bell and the unharmonious singing of many voices, struck upon his ear. 'That must be a horde of reindeer Laplanders!' he joyfully exclaimed. 'They come opportunely.' The nomades soon broke forth from the thickest part of the wood. More than a hundred tawny-brown reindeer, headed by the leading buck, with his far-sounding bell, discovered themselves. The kind and useful animals followed quietly, with their mane-like beards and strangely formed horns, with outstretched necks, staring out of their honest looking eyes upon their leader; and if a young one occasionally attempted to stray from the line of march, the well taught hounds would immediately overhaul and return him to the ranks. The owner closed the procession, with his wives, his daughters and sons, children-in-law and grand-children, serving men and maidens, all riding upon reindeer, and howling an ill-sounding Laplandish song. The train spread itself out upon the meadow and made a halt, the burthened reindeer were unladen, and some cone-shaped huts, composed of limbs of trees and covered with mats and skins, soon arose over the green earth, which afforded immediate refreshment to the flocks.
The preparation for their meal was immediately begun in these huts, from the tops of which the curling smoke cheerfully floated up into the clear heavens.
Arwed approached the patriarch of this numerous family, who had seated himself upon the grass near his favorite animal, and had just received from his women a wooden goblet full of reindeer's milk.
'Greetings to you, good Samolazes,' said Arwed in a friendly manner. 'Where from?'
'We have come down from Dofrefield,' answered the Laplander, 'seeking better pasturage for our animals.'
'Has any thing unusual occurred during your journey?' Arwed asked in continuation, by way of approaching the particular object of his inquiries.
The old Laplander tossed his head, examined the youth mistrustfully with his dull red eyes, and coldly and gruffly answered, 'nothing has happened to us.'
'They say the roads are not entirely safe,' continued Arwed; 'that Black Naddock has again suffered himself to be seen in these regions.'
'I know nothing of the man,' anxiously protested the Laplander; 'in my whole life I never before heard of him.'
'That is a lie!' said Arwed angrily. 'How is it possible that you should be so ignorant about the scourge of this whole country? You distrust me very unjustly. I ask with good intentions. It is of the utmost consequence that I should discover the lurking hole in which this band of dangerous villains conceal themselves, that they may be annihilated by one bold stroke. Upon this, perhaps, depends the rescue of a very noble man from the clutches of the monsters.'
'The arts of men are as multiform as the clouds which ride upon the winds,' answered the Laplander, with a shake of the head. 'It is very possible that you yourself belong to the gang, and only wish to spy out how much I have learned of their proceedings, and how I am disposed towards them. It is not well however to speak of the fiery-eyed wolf. My herd is dear to me, and therefore I am the most ignorant man on earth of all that upon which you would question me.'
'For shame, Juckas Jervis!' now cried the Laplander's elderly better half, who had hitherto listened in silence, but with evident interest, to the conversation. 'How can you be so suspicious and disingenuous? This Swede is surely an honest man, who is well disposed towards us all. Only look at his handsome and honest face. What he asks is for our common good, and we should honestly answer him according to our best ability. The tribute we have been compelled to pay the thieves for the safety of our herds, has long troubled me.'
'On your own responsibility!' grumbled the old man, drawing Arwed mysteriously aside. 'You will find the robbers' camp,' he whispered to him, 'by turning to the left and then proceeding straight forward to the foot of the mountains. You will then turn to the right into a ravine, and again to the left, following the banks of a glacier rivulet until you discover what you seek. You will know the place by the swarms of carrion birds who scent their future prey there, and consequently never leave the rocks.'
'Your description may appear very plain to you, friend Jervis,' said Arwed, 'but it is nevertheless hardly intelligible to me. Grant me a guide to the place. I will richly reward him.'
'Jackmock!' cried the Laplander's wife, and a short, thick, nine-pin looking fellow sprang forward, whom Jervis directed to guide the Swedish gentleman to the Ravensten in the mountains.
'Certainly!' answered the fellow. 'If not entirely there, yet so near that he can see it at a distance.' Whereupon he hastened to get his staff and traveling bag, and soon again stood before Arwed, ready for the march.
'I am already under great obligations to you,' said Arwed to the woman. 'Yet--yet one more question I wish to ask in the strictest confidence. You come from where I wish to go. Perhaps you have accidentally learned something of a fine, tall old gentleman who, since yesterday, may have fallen into wicked hands?'
'You wish to know much, and require us to do dangerous things!' grumbled the patriarch.
'You have already told me so much,' urged Arwed, 'why not unreservedly tell me all? By my God, I will not abuse your confidence.'
'Who can deny you any thing?' whispered the woman, laughing. 'According to the information we received yesterday about sunset, you will indeed find him whom you seek upon the Ravensten; but whether living or dead, I cannot undertake to say.'
Arwed turned to go.
'Take care of yourself,' said the good woman in bidding him God speed. 'Naddock shows no mercy to an enemy. If you fall into his hands as an opponent, you are lost.'
'We are all in the hands of God,' answered Arwed with confidence; and, shaking hands with Jervis, he followed his guide into the forest.
They had been traveling silently for some hours, when the forest opened, and an arm of the mountain which divides the Umea Lappmark lay before them, in all its awful magnificence. Naked rocks and icebergs stretched up into the clouds, and the pale green vallies interspersed between the masses of stone, ice and snow, appeared as if nature was here already preparing for her long winter's repose.
At the moment when the wanderers had arrived at the foot of the first ascent, Arwed's guide, giving a shriek of terror, and pointing with a trembling hand towards a black fir-tree in the road, turned and fled so suddenly into the forest, that Arwed was soon obliged to give up all thoughts of calling him back. Surprised, he now looked toward the fir-tree which had caused the Laplander's panic. The view was sufficiently horrible. The bloody head of a Laplander was affixed to one of the under branches of the tree. Near it was suspended a tablet, upon which in large letters was inscribed--'Punishment of treachery to Naddock and his brethren.'
'Shameless insolence!' exclaimed Arwed, with indignation at the impudence of the robber, who, to screen his own crimes, had here executed a lawless penal judgment with Turkish barbarity. Approaching the tree, he long and sorrowfully examined the mute, pale, yellow face. 'Poor victim,' he exclaimed, 'how mournfully thou lookest down upon me, as if thou wouldst warn me from the path which probably led thee to death. It would indeed be hard for me so to end my life. Yet my second father must be saved, and it is unbecoming a man to turn back from an enterprise which he has once commenced. No, fearlessly and cheerfully will I go on, and if my undertaking succeed, thy death also shall find an avenger!'
A clattering, as if from the approach of many people, interrupted the earnest monologue. Arwed slipped among the bushes beside the way, and about ten men, of wild and ferocious aspect, armed with knives, iron-mounted cudgels, and some of them with muskets, came down from the mountain and passed directly by him, gabbling among themselves in their unintelligible gibberish, without being aware of his near proximity.
They had no sooner showed him their backs, than he hastily arose and proceeded up the mountain with rapid strides.
With toilsome efforts Arwed succeeded in following the Laplander's directions. At length he found the glacier brook, and at the same time the end of his journey. A huge mass of bare, dark-gray rocks, surrounded by ice-mountains, towered up into the clouds in terrible majesty. Upon their summit lay the ruins of an ancient castle, of which only a couple of towers with their connecting wall were standing, and above them swarmed innumerable multitudes of rooks and daws, some of which sat in thick rows upon the battlements, while others fluttered in flocks about them in wild commotion. Their harsh croakings resounded amid the deep stillness of the place, boding misfortune. 'Truly, not alone in the battlefield is the courage of man called into exercise!' said he to himself, while seeking the way which led up to the ruins. At length he had found a foot-path, when a rough voice cried out to him, 'Halt!' He looked up, and upon a high rock hardly ten steps before him stood a brigand, whose rifle was aimed at his head.
'What may be the matter?' cried Arwed, roughly, taking his gun from his shoulder.
'Lay aside your arms, or I will shoot you down!' commanded the robber.
'That is not my custom,' answered Arwed. 'Shoot, rascal! But be sure to hit, or you are lost.'
And presenting his gun with his left hand, as he would have presented a pistol, he rushed towards his adversary. The latter, daunted by his boldness, fired and missed; and instantly afterwards, with Arwed's bullet in his head, he fell upon the rock, whence, yet struggling with death, he tumbled down a neighboring and unfathomable abyss. Frightened by the firing, the whole flock of funereal birds arose croaking from the summit, with the rustling of a thousand wings, and fluttered like a dark rushing cloud in the air, for some minutes obscuring the light of the sun.
'Those villanous birds will alarm the garrison and bring the whole gang in an uproar upon me,' thought Arwed, as he reloaded his gun. 'I would willingly have ascended further, but now I must not venture it. Every thing depends upon my safely reaching Gyllensten with the knowledge I have acquired. I have obtained the necessary information concerning the enemy's position. It has indeed cost one man's life, but he is no great loss to the world.'
He hastened homeward. Soon the dangerous mountain lay far behind him; and, just as the stars began to twinkle in the firmament, he reached Gyllensten in safety.
Under the direction of Megret and Arwed, the preparations for breaking up the nest of robbers were made with great ability and circumspection. The ten dragoons stationed at Umea were privately summoned to Gyllensten, and the neighboring peasantry, who were collected together under the pretext of a grand wolf-hunt, were distributed among them and the governor's foresters and gamekeepers. The little force thus collected, numbering about eighty men, were divided into two commands under Megret and Arwed, and started the next night in many separate divisions, which, though connected by patroles, presented no one conspicuous mass which could excite the suspicions of the brigands. Whilst Megret proceeded in this manner directly towards Ravensten, Arwed sought to reach the other side of the rocks by a circuitous route, so as to cut off any attempted retreat to the neighboring mountains. The movement was successfully accomplished. Just before sun-rise the two divisions almost simultaneously reached the foot of the Ravensten, and slowly and cautiously ascended the narrow rocky passes. They arrived at the summit without meeting with any obstruction. There, one of the robber sentinels, being aroused, made a stand and shot down one of the dragoons by Arwed's side. The shot not only awakened the winged denizens of Ravensten, who rose affrighted and screaming into the air, but also occasioned a movement in the towers, and about twenty of the half naked brigands rushed out with such arms as they could first seize in the confusion of the moment, and fell upon the assailants. The strife was furious on both sides, but victory finally inclined in favor of the greater number of the assailing party;--want of experience was compensated by the circumspection and bravery of their leaders, and the brigands were yielding ground, when a small, fresh band, came forth to the battle and renewed the fight. At their head was a tall, well-formed man, with a dark-colored face, who first fired his pistols among the assailants, and then with great fury fell upon the peasants, sword in hand, 'That is Black Naddock!' they cried, every where retreating before him. The dragoons and foresters, however, kept their ground, and the battle raged with increased fierceness.
'That is the man who saved my life on the road to Tornea!' cried Arwed to Megret.
'It is Mac Donalbain, artificially blackened!' exclaimed the latter with envenomed scorn, attempting to fight his way to his hated rival; but some of the brigands threw themselves before him, and kept him fully employed; whilst Arwed constantly pressed nearer and nearer to the blackamoor, and soon discovered the well-known features through his disguise.
'Yield, Mac Donalbain, the victory is ours!' cried Arwed, attacking him.
'It is better to die by the sword of a brave nobleman than upon the scaffold!' exclaimed Mac Donalbain, suddenly exposing his uncovered breast to Arwed's blade.
'God forbid!' cried Arwed, checking the descending blow. 'I am no murderer!' But at that moment Megret, having disencumbered himself of his troublesome opponents, hurled the Scot to the earth.
'At last!' triumphantly exclaimed Megret, setting his foot upon the breast of his fallen foe and slowly raising his sword for the death-stroke with an infernal smile....
At that moment a woman in a peasant's dress and with a child in her arms, rushed forward with an agonizing shriek. Wildly floated the rich blond locks about her white forehead, which strangely contrasted with the bloom of the rosy faced infant. 'Christine!' cried the terrified Arwed.
'Mercy!' shrieked the unhappy woman. 'Mercy for my husband, for the father of this child!'
'You know not what you ask, madam Mac Donalbain!' said Megret, scornfully. 'Whoever is well disposed towards you and your house, cannot do a better thing than speedily to help you to a widow's veil.' He aimed a blow,--but Arwed opportunely struck up his sword and forced him back.
'Mac Donalbain is a prisoner!' cried the youth with noble indignation. 'From this moment he stands under the protection of the law, to which he is amenable, and you have no right to take his life.'
'Ah, Arwed, you are indeed always yourself!' sobbed Christine, falling at his feet with her child.
'Such generous subtlety,' said Megret, putting up his sword, 'becomes loathsome to me when practically applied in the important affairs of life.'
'In this case, generosity is more cruel than malignity!' cried Mac Donalbain, closing his eyes from exhaustion by loss of blood.
Meantime the right had fully conquered. Fifteen of the robbers had fallen in the fight, and seven had madly thrown themselves from the summit and found the death they hoped to escape, upon the sharp cliffs of Ravensten. The remainder, twelve in number, struck with terror by the fall of their chief, threw down their arms and begged for mercy.
Whilst Megret caused the prisoners to be bound together in couples, Mac Donalbain was by Arwed's direction conveyed into the lower vault of the tower, and his wounds taken care of.
Arwed then turned to Christine, who had followed them to the tower. 'Wretched woman,' cried he, grasping her powerfully, 'where is thy father?'
Christine pointed speechlessly to a corner of the cave-like room, and then threw herself in silent wretchedness upon Mac Donalbain's couch of sorrow.
Arwed hastened to the designated spot, found and sprung a trap door there, which opened into the rocky cellar of the castle. A long, winding staircase conducted him to a subterranean but well lighted room, where, still paler and weaker than when he last saw him, his poor old uncle met his view.
'My son! my preserver!' cried the old man, with outspread arms.
'Thank God, my object is accomplished!' exclaimed Arwed, with heartfelt joy. 'Yet once more has my melancholy existence been rendered really useful in the world.'
'Alas, that it has been accomplished!' cried the uncle with deep despondency, 'Rather would I have found, here an unknown and unhonored grave, than meet the overwhelming shame which must henceforth rest upon my noble name in my native land!'
Under the directions of Megret the towers and walls of Ravensten were blown up, to render them forever after incapable of serving as a place of shelter for similar bands. The wounded Mac Donalbain and his companions were secured in the prisons of Umea, and Christine with her child conveyed to Gyllensten, where her aged father, his iron constitution finally overpowered by his sorrows, lay dangerously ill. The chief judge had summoned the associate justices of his court to the sessions-chamber of the city hall of Umea, for the trial of the criminals. Arwed and Megret were present; the former at his uncle's request, and the latter, that he might witness the entire outpouring of the cup of vengeance; and, supported by his keeper and laden with chains, Mac Donalbain appeared before his judges. Harassed and tormented by his wounds, he staggered here and there, with difficulty holding himself upright; but his spirit remained unbroken, and his dark eyes flashed upon the assembly with all their former fierceness. Megret beheld the scene with a smile of internal satisfaction. Arwed gave a look of sympathy to the unhappy man, and then whispered a request to the judge. The latter nodded. The bailiffs took off Mac Donalbain's chains and placed a stool for him, upon which he seated himself with a look of gratitude towards Arwed.
'Tell us your true name, your rank, and your native country,' commenced the judge with solemn earnestness.
'Gregor Mac Donalbain,' answered the prisoner; 'a nobleman of the highlands of Scotland.'
'Do you still continue, with shameless effrontery, to make that assertion?' interposed Megret.
'Forget not, colonel,' cried Mac Donalbain with vehemence, 'that here you have no right to question me, and that I do not acknowledge any obligation to answer you.'
'Neither should you forget,' said Megret, with bitterness, 'that pride and insolence will make your bad cause still worse, and forever close the door of mercy which true repentance and humility may perhaps otherwise open for you.'
'You would indeed very willingly see me, overpowered by the fear of death, begging my life at your feet,' rejoined Mac Donalbain, disdainfully. 'But you may as well resign all hope of that pleasure. I reject and scorn all mercy for which I must be indebted to you.'
The judge commanded both of them to be silent. 'Admitting the correctness of your statement,' said he to Mac Donalbain, 'how is it possible that you could stain your nobility by abandoning yourself to so horrible and reprobate a profession?'
'It was my fate!' answered Mac Donalbain doggedly, and casting his eyes upon the ground.
'So, but too often, does man name the consequences of his passions and his crimes!' remarked the judge.
'So,' said Mac Donalbain, 'may this name be often applied to the injustice which an unfortunate man suffers from his brethren, when that injustice impels him to deeds which else would have been abhorrent to his soul. A cruel injury to my honor, which I suffered in the service of the British king, threw me into the arms of the English buccaneers. My name became known and feared in both the eastern and western oceans. The lords of the earth, however they may indulge in similar enterprizes on a great scale for the accomplishment of their projects, array themselves against little private exploits. Excluded from the ports of all civilized nations, we were at length compelled to seek an asylum in Africa. We found one in Madagascar. There we heard of the return of the hero of the north to his own country. We hoped that this prince, fond of war, and compelled as he was to engage in it, would receive us with open arms. Offering to him our services, we proposed to enter the port of Gottenburg with sixty sail of vessels. Two of his nobility closed a treaty with us in his name. I was sent here before the arrival of the fleet to prepare every thing for its reception; but a fever seized me at Gottenburg; and before my recovery the king fell before Frederickshall. Storms, and Europe's _licensed_ pirates, annihilated our fleet upon its way hither, and when at length I arose from my bed of sickness I was a beggar. There was no longer any hope of the fulfilment of the royal promise. With Charles's seal and signature for the rank of colonel, I could not even obtain a company. Then again awoke in me the bitter hatred of mankind. My last hope to live and fall as an honorable soldier, was destroyed. The country which denied me my well acquired rights, threw me back to the state of nature, in which every man sustains and defends himself by his own natural powers. I then felt myself authorized to make war upon my enemies, and take what I needed with the strong hand. A band of unfortunates, who like me had nothing to lose, chose me for their leader, and the struggle between myself and the crown of Sweden began. I have been overcome and am therefore in the wrong;--for which reason I pray you quickly to break the staff of justice over my head. I am ready to die.'
'Dreadful man!' cried the judge. 'Have you also such sophisms in readiness to excuse the misery and shame you have brought upon a noble house within whose walls you were hospitably received?'
'That is the curse of my life,' cried Mac Donalbain, repentantly, 'for which I cannot answer. For that must I call down justice upon myself. However hard your sentence may fall upon me, by that alone have I deserved it, and willingly bow myself before the chastening hand of the law.'
'It is the request of my uncle,' said Arwed to the judge, 'that all the wrongs which Mac Donalbain has perpetrated against our house should be passed over without investigation.'
'What, even the attempt against his excellency's person?' indignantly asked the judge, whilst Megret in silent anger ground the floor with his spurred heel.
'The band,' said Arwed, 'among whom the governor had accidentally fallen, wished to murder him for their own safety. Mac Donalbain preserved the old man's life by risking his own. Even the imprisonment was but a measure resorted to for that purpose. I also have to thank this man for the preservation of my life. He would have a strong counter reckoning to make with us. Therefore let one account be considered as balanced by the other.'
'I am astonished,' spitefully observed Megret, 'that my lord the governor has not proposed an amnesty for his dear son-in-law.'
'My uncle,' answered Arwed with earnestness, 'can pardon injuries personal to himself; but he will never allow himself to interrupt the just operation of the laws. With us Mac Donalbain has made his peace. He has now to reconcile himself with the laws and satisfy the demands of public justice, if need be, with his blood!'
'Oh, would to God it might be so!' cried Mac Donalbain. 'With my present feelings life would be to me a most sad and unwelcome gift.'
A disturbance was now heard without the session-room. The door flew open, and the breathless Christine, with her child in her arms, pressed irresistibly through the crowd of officers who sought to hold her back.
'This trial also!' sighed Mac Donalbain, turning away his face.
'In God's name, the countess Gyllenstierna!' cried the astonished judge.
'I was the countess Gyllenstierna,' said Christine. 'I am now the wedded wife of the brigand leader, Mac Donalbain, and my place is by his side, in chains or upon the gallows.'
'Christine! how could you afflict your father by this second shameful flight?' Arwed reproachingly asked.
'My father's life,' answered Christine, 'was already empoisoned beyond remedy by my guilt. Therefore allow me the merit of having fulfilled my duty towards at least _one_ being in the world, my husband. He is a prisoner, and suffering in body and mind. He needs care and consolation; and from whom can he expect either, if not from her who has bound her fate with his for this life by a solemn oath before God's altar.'
'Have you then really married the criminal?' Megret anxiously asked.
Christine gave him a scornful look and remained silent; but when the question was repeated by the judge, she drew a sealed paper from her bosom and laid it upon his table.
'A Gyllenstierna can never wholly fall,' said she proudly. 'The old curate of Lyksale, constrained by my tears, secretly married us a short time before his death.'
'This evidence,' said the judge, 'speaks _against_ your wish to share the criminal's chains. Bound to him by the holy ties of marriage, you become guiltless of the crimes in which he is implicated, in which your will had no part. There is no reasonable ground for your detention, and nothing remains but to send you back to your father.'
'Torture me not with this well-meant chicanery!' exclaimed Christine. 'Would you counsel me to ascertain which is deepest, the Umea or my misery? Or would you that I should strangle myself with the braids of my hair? So true as the Lord liveth, I will not be torn living from my husband.'
'Let it be as she wishes,' begged Arwed of the judge.
'I shall perhaps take a heavy responsibility upon myself,' answered the latter with strong emotion. 'But who could withstand her intercession? Be it so.'
'Courage, Mac Donalbain!' now exhorted Christine. 'We have men for our judges. They will listen to your defence with merciful hearts, and thus at least your life will be saved.'
'I desire not life, nor will I ask for mercy!' cried Mac Donalbain, wildly. 'My deeds are my own, and the son of my father is not accustomed to excuse or palliate them, especially to save a miserable life!'
'You speak as becomes a man and a Scottish nobleman,' said Christine; 'yet must I be allowed to speak for you as becomes your truly wedded wife. Therefore I beg of you, my lords, give that gracious hearing which you hope God will one day give you!'
'What can you offer in defence of a convicted highway robber?' asked the judge, with some appearance of sympathy.
'The heaven-crying injustice of the government!' eagerly exclaimed Christine, 'which forcibly impelled the unhappy man upon his criminal career. The indulgence which has been shown to similar transgressions. The case of the Danish deserter, who received from Charles XII great rewards and a license to rob for his own benefit, proves how mildly such transgressions have hitherto been judged in our father-land.'
'However clear may be the precedent you cite to us,' said the judge, 'it cannot be applied to the present case. Neither was this absolute sovereign authorised to grant such unheard of privileges, which, if true, owes its origin but to one of Charles's strange caprices; as the property of the subjects must be deemed sacred by the king, who is indeed their natural protector.'
'My maternal inheritance shall repair the wrong which Mac Donalbain has inflicted upon the country!' cried Christine.
'Can you make reparation for the innocent blood which has been shed by your husband's hand?' asked the judge with impressive solemnity.
'The resistance he opposed to the attack was self-defence!' cried Christine; 'besides, none of the assailants fell by his sword; and with that exception he has preserved his hands pure from the blood of his fellow men.'
'By no means!' answered the judge. 'The traveler upon the road to Lulea, and the unhappy Laplander, who conducted the governor to that den of murderers, are dumb witnesses of your husband's guilt.'
'By the God of heaven, Mac Donalbain is not guilty of their death!' cried Christine in tones of the deepest anguish. 'Ask the band, and, if either of them accuse my husband, let us both die the shameful death of criminals.'
'We would indeed very willingly hear the truth, at last, from his companions. But in their examinations they have denied all knowledge of the crimes of which they have been guilty, with unparalleled impudence.'
'The knaves deny!' cried Mac Donalbain, springing upon his feet. 'They must consider me dead or as having escaped, else they would not dare to do it, for they know me. Let them be brought here,--let them be placed before my eyes. I will reckon with them in a manner which shall change their minds.'
'It may not be advisable,' observed Megret; 'it may give them an opportunity for secret collusion.'
'I am of a different opinion, colonel,' answered the judge, directing the bailiff to bring in the band. 'This man is so bold and frank that we need not fear artifice.'
A long, deep silence ensued. Christine, weeping in silence, had seated herself upon Mac Donalbain's stool, and was absorbed in the contemplation of the blooming child, which with an angel smile was sleeping on her bosom. The brigand leader had kneeled down and hid his face in her lap, whilst her white fingers wandered among his black and curled locks. Megret looked with dark burning glances, and Arwed with the deepest sympathy upon the group, while the judge said, sighing; 'the office of a judge is sometimes very difficult to administer!'
A noise was now heard in the ante-room. Arms and chains rattled, and twelve fiend-like ruffians, in heavy chains and strongly guarded by bailiffs and soldiers, stepping in exact time, without recognizing or noticing Mac Donalbain, marched in and formed in exact line on the space before the bench.
'We have again summoned you,' began the chief judge, 'to repeat our exhortations to confess the truth, and once more to lead your minds to the conviction, that by persisting in your shameless denials, you only prolong the examination and your own imprisonment--that you expose yourselves to the torture of the rack, and moreover increase the severity of your punishment, the mitigation of which you can only hope from a free and full confession. Consider, unhappy men, that my present request is made with the kindest intentions. He, only, who honestly acknowledges and repents of his sins can hope for a merciful judgment here or hereafter.'
'It is quite pathetic and affecting to hear,' answered the most hardened of the prisoners, 'that such a lord as you should so far condescend to us miserable people, as to beg where you are accustomed only to command. We cannot indeed particularly wish to hasten an examination which with us is to end with the gallows, especially if we should say yes to all of which we are suspected to be guilty. The mitigation of punishment, with which judges always embellish their promises to prisoners, in requital of candid confessions, appears to me like the little book mentioned in the revelations of St. John, 'sweet in the mouth and bitter in the belly.' We know of many examples where prisoners have fared worse for speaking than for keeping silent. However it may be with others, we have not the least desire to talk away our own lives. Concerning the rack, which judges always present as the other alternative, we must submit to it as well as we may, all of us having strong frames and stout hearts. Nevertheless we would give you every information without the rack, if any we had. What we do know, we have honestly related; and it certainly is not our fault if you will not believe us.'
'Do you persist, then, in denying the robberies of which you are already as good as convicted?' asked the judge.
'We deny nothing,' insolently answered the prisoner, 'nor do we acknowledge anything; for we have committed no crime. We are honest Finlanders, who follow hunting through half the Lappmark, and had our head quarters upon the Ravensten.'
'And do you really know nothing of Black Naddock?' further asked the judge.
'We have heard some tales about the arrant rogue,' answered the brigand, 'but the devil knows more about him than we. There was indeed a Moor, who begged a lodging of us last night, and I thought I saw him again in the morning, when we were attacked by the dragoons and their companions; but whether he was or was not Naddock, is more than I can say. I do not know the man.'
'You do not know me, rascal?' cried Mac Donalbain, springing forward, and striking his brother robber to the earth with his fist.
'The captain!' was murmured along the ranks, and, fronting their chief, the robbers laid their right hands upon their hearts, in token of respectful greeting.
'Must I suffer this from people whom I have commanded?' angrily exclaimed Mac Donalbain. 'You have held out like heroes, against men and elements, and do you now, equivocate like common thieves from a miserable fear of death? Know that I have disclosed everything to the court, and further, that I will freely answer every question they can put to me. Do you wish to give the lie to your captain?'
'God forbid!' stammered one of the band. 'We should be disgraced for life!' cried another; and the former speaker, who by this time had risen from the floor, cried, 'let your crook-backed secretary nib his pen afresh, sir judge. We will now sing the song that you lords will but too willingly hear from such poor devils as we. Write! Everything that our captain has confessed is true from the beginning to the end.'
'Well now,' cried Megret, who could restrain himself no longer; 'you see that you may now, if you please, repay your captain for all the misfortunes he has brought upon you. The sinful ties which connected you with him are cut asunder, and you have no reason to spare him in the least. So tell the court freely and frankly--'who murdered the traveler on the road to Lulea?'
'That,' answered the robber with eagerness and proud satisfaction, 'was done by a brace of gallows-birds who did not belong to our band, but marauded on their own account, and we beg not to be confounded with them. Had we caught them we should ourselves have hung them upon the nearest tree; for we could not with indifference have permitted such good-for-nothing fellows to injure our reputation.'
'And who killed the poor Laplander, who was found hung upon the fir-tree before the entrance to your den?' asked the judge.
'Red Hialf,' answered the prisoner; 'but without orders. In consequence of which our captain arrested him, and on the morning when we were attacked, he was to have had his trial. He must have been found locked up in the vault of the second tower.'
'That place was not searched!' cried Arwed, with a shudder.
'He must have been blown into the air with the tower,' said Megret. 'There can be no question of it.'
'You must now be convinced,' said Christine, approaching the judge, 'that my husband is innocent of every murderous deed. Can you now give me any hope for him?'
'I should consider it great presumption to give you any,' answered the judge, 'and unjust to withhold it entirely. Our laws are severe and my duties strict. Yet can the queen pardon. Leave the decision to God!'
He directed the bailiffs to replace Mac Donalbain's chains. Christine watched the proceeding in silent sadness, bowed with a sweet and melancholy grace to the judges, and, supporting her child with one arm and her husband with the other, she moved with him from the room. Arwed and Megret followed her.
'Is it really your unalterable resolution, countess,' whispered the latter to her, 'to share the imprisonment of a villain, instead of fulfilling a daughter's duty by the sick bed of your noble father?'
But Christine turned away without answering him, and approached Arwed. 'Thy spirit breathed upon me in the court room,' said she with strong emotion. 'For the kindness I met there, I am indebted to thy benignant heart. Tire not! I well know that we are not worthy of all you are doing for us; but you are accustomed to the performance of all that is good and great, and will of yourself consummate your work, for its own sake, regardless of the object. Save but the life of this unhappy man, and you shall have my eternal gratitude.'
'Listen not to her prayer, count,' cried Mac Donalbain, 'but suffer me to seek in the grave that peace which life can henceforth never give me.'
The conversation was interrupted by the guards whose duty it was to conduct the prisoners to their dungeon. Christine, shuddering, left Arwed, to follow her husband, '_Diable! Elle aime le larron, et elle l'aimera jusqu'à la potence!_' cried the enraged and despairing Megret as he rushed out.
It was already deep winter, and the judges were again assembled in the town hall of Umea. Once more Arwed leaned against the window, an interested spectator. Through his interposition Megret was this time denied entrance. With recovered health Mac Donalbain, his faithful nurse, his child, and his twelve comrades, were placed before the judgment seat. The chief judge showed the seal of the envelope covering the final decision, which had been received from Stockholm. After satisfying all present that the seal was still inviolate, he proceeded to break it and drew out the portentous document, through which he rapidly ran his eye.
'Your lives are spared!' cried he to Mac Donalbain with heartfelt joy. 'The mercy of the queen has commuted the death-sentence of you all into confinement to labor in the mines for life.'
'Oh my God! that is hard!' sighed Mac Donalbain.
'That is heart-breaking mercy,' dryly observed the humorous brigand, 'which compels us, who were never fond of labor, again to begin to move our bones like patient asses day after day, until happily relieved by death. However, something is always better than nothing, and we are duly grateful.'
Meanwhile Christine had fallen upon her knees in silent thanksgiving to God. She quickly arose however, and quietly asked the judge, 'what is the decision with regard to myself!'
'As was foreseen,' he answered. 'You are pronounced free from all guilt and punishment, and you are left at liberty to dissolve your marriage with the prisoner.'
'What a good thing it is to have a royal counsellor for one's uncle!' cried Christine, with derisive scorn.
'You can leave this place and go wherever you please without delay or hindrance. Yet you are expected at Gyllensten, and your noble kinsman is present to accompany you there.'
'That means, that I am to be separated from my husband by persuasion or force!' said Christine with intense anxiety, while a sudden resolution seemed all at once to re-animate her soul. 'You then are my master, Arwed,' she at length said to him. 'Against that I have no complaint to make. You will not be an unkind one, and therefore I confidently expect from you a compliance with my request. Allow me to accompany my husband to his place of destination.'
'Your father expects you to-day,' said Arwed impatiently; 'and I must not comply with your request.'
'Dear Arwed,' said she, hanging affectionately upon him, 'let me at least take a final leave of the wretched man before he parts forever from the blessed light of day. Then will I follow you to Gyllensten, or where else you please, patiently, as a lamb follows its mother. Do not this time say no. It is the last request I shall ever make of you.'
'So all-powerful is the magic of this singular being,' said Arwed to the judge, 'that she compels me to consent to what I ought to refuse. Yours is a sad case, Christine; you might have prepared an earthly heaven for some worthy man, through your love.'
'That she might!' cried Mac Donalbain, agonized with sorrow and repentance, 'that she might, had she not thrown away her love upon me. She is a cheerful sun which has lavished its rays upon a desert waste, full of monsters, instead of ripening wholesome fruits for the nourishment of men.'
'You say yes? I can prepare for the journey, can I not?' once more asked Christine, and kissing his hand as he nodded assent, she flew to make her preparations.
The wagons of the prisoners, together with Arwed's carriage containing Christine and her child, were approaching the end of their journey. On one side of them the smelting furnace of Oesterby was rolling its clouds of smoke high into the winter sky; before them towered the bald, dark-gray iron mountains of Danemora-Gruben, and already the few buildings which animate this desolate and uncomfortable region had become visible. A dragoon, who had been sent forward to announce their approach to the superintendent of the mines, now returned and led them to the nearest shaft, where a number of the miners had already assembled to receive the new comers and expedite them to their destined location under ground.
While the young miners were taking their stations at the windlass, and others were removing the robbers from the wagons, Christine drew Arwed aside.
'Arwed,' said the broken-hearted woman, 'you have always conducted yourself towards me in the noblest manner. Give me one more proof of your generosity and kindness, and thus crown your work. Allow me to descend into the mine with Mac Donalbain. My anxiety for him will be less painful when I am made acquainted with his new residence.'
'What an insensate request!' cried Mac Donalbain, who had overheard it, 'It will be much better that we take our last farewell here above ground.'
'Because I have once yielded to your importunities,' replied Arwed, 'you hold me for a weak simpleton, and think you can move and turn me at your pleasure. I have fulfilled your last request, and now I must obey your father's commands. Take your last leave of Mac Donalbain, and then return with me according to your solemn promise.'
'Hold me not so closely to my word,' entreated Christine. 'What would I not have promised for the happiness of beholding my husband some days longer! Let me descend with him.'
'You must now take your leave,' said Arwed sternly, 'and then immediately return with me to Gyllensten. My resolution is unchangeable.'
Christine looked wildly about her. The robbers were all in the tub ready to descend, and waited only for Mac Donalbain, who now embraced his wife with frantic sorrow. 'Farewell, and forgive me!' he cried, and hurried to the shaft.
'If thou hast ever loved,' shrieked Christine, clinging to Arwed's knees, 'suffer yourself this time, only this time, to be softened. Let me follow my husband. For this shall a wife leave father and mother. Hold God's word in honor, and permit an unhappy woman to descend into the bosom of the earth, from which she sprung.'
'I must do my duty; you remain behind!' decided Arwed. Meantime the windlass had commenced its revolutions, and the prisoners had disappeared in the dark and yawning gulf.
'He is gone!' moaned Christine. 'Thou hast done thy duty, barbarian; now will I do mine!'
She took the suckling from her breast, and placed it in Arwed's arms. 'Be its father!' she cried, springing to the shaft.
'Back! the tubs have already descended!' shrieked a miner, whilst Arwed hastened after her to hold her back.
'In God's name!' she exclaimed, and, grasping with both hands the tub-rope which hung suspended in the abyss, and boldly swinging herself over the shaft, she descended with frightful rapidity, and in a moment was lost to view.
'Holy God!' cried Arwed in amazement, staring with stupefaction into the horrible deep.
'She will never reach the bottom alive,' cried one of the miners at the windlass: 'God have mercy on her soul!'
Arwed had handed over the child to one of the miners' wives, and availed himself of the first tub which again came up, to descend into the pit for the purpose of looking after the unhappy mother, and doing every thing in his power for her welfare. The brave youth felt a slight shudder, when, by the celerity of his movement, the black, rocky walls around him, as if raised by some magic power, appeared to fly up into the air so swiftly as soon to shut out the light of day from the entrance, which appeared like a distant star shining down upon him; and, as his eyes gradually became accustomed to the obscurity, the terrors of the subterranean world became more and more distinctly and fearfully perceptible. Nothing was to be seen around him but dark gray rocks in gigantic masses, and occasionally caves and depths so immeasurable that they appeared to open into endless space. In singular contrast with the death-like appearance of all nature in these immense regions, appeared the active and busy movements of living men, who cheerfully labored to rend by force from old mother earth, that which she has so carefully hidden, and so pertinaciously withholds, from the curiosity and avarice of her children. There, upon an isolated group of projecting rocks, were the begrimmed miners, with their mining lamps, appearing in the far distance like so many fire-flies, assiduously digging with mallets and drills into the iron walls, for the purpose of gaining, in the least dangerous, though most tedious manner, the useful metal, which others then removed in troughs, baskets and handbarrows, and finally conveyed to the regions of day. Here, large fires were burning under the overhanging rocks, for the purpose of softening the hard stone by their heat, until they could be detached by their iron crow-bars. Upon slender rafters, supported by inserting their ends into the fissures of the rocks over unfathomable abysses, solitary individuals were composedly boring holes in the rocks for the purpose of blasting them; and near and far to a great distance, the darkness was illuminated by explosions which re-echoed through the natural arches of the pit like a subterranean battery of cannon.
'A true earthly hell!' said Arwed, while going down, 'furnished with all the terrors and torments which mortals can suffer without quickly succumbing. How can Christine prefer servitude in this eternal night to freedom in the blessed light of day? But indeed love will endure all things.'
The tub landed at the bottom of the shaft, Arwed stepped from it, and immediately perceived, by the light of a torch, the poor Christine lying exhausted upon the ground in a recess in one side of the pit. Mac Donalbain was standing by her in silent despair, and the clergyman of the mines was bandaging the bleeding hands of the suffering woman, from which the cord had torn the flesh as it slipped through them.
'So thou hast come after me, Arwed!' cried she, with a glance of heavenly kindness, and extending towards him her already bandaged right hand. 'You have always acted toward me with the best feelings and intentions.'
'My God, what desperation!' said Arwed. 'This descent might have cost you your life. At all events you have accomplished your wish. So give to Mac Donalbain your farewell kiss, and let us again return to your child and to your father.'
'Not so, Arwed!' answered Christine with determined resolution. 'My child is confided to good hands. My presence can afford neither joy nor comfort to my father. I remain with my husband. You have reason to know what will be my alternative if compulsion is used. You would not constrain me to self-murder. Therefore take my last farewell, and with it my thanks for your truly fraternal love.'
'It is now your duty to interfere, Mac Donalbain,' cried Arwed, earnestly. 'Without Christine I dare not appear before her father. The intelligence that she has persisted in remaining here would cause the old man's death, and he has not deserved that from you. Therefore dissolve the magic spell you have cast around her, and give back the daughter to her father.'
'My crimes have forever loosed the bands which bound us,' said Mac Donalbain, with almost suffocating sorrow, to his wife. 'Therefore leave me now, Christine. It would only increase my misery to know that it was shared by you.'
'I do not believe it, Mac Donalbain,' answered the resolute woman. 'That the society, the sympathy, the consolations, of a being who stands in so near a relation that henceforth she will only live and breathe for you, must lighten your sufferings, I am fully convinced; and in despite of your generous untruth I remain your companion.'
'Well, then,' cried Mac Donalbain, wildly, 'if you will at all events remain the wife of a condemned criminal, you must respect the husband's authority. The wife owes obedience to the husband, and I command you to return to your father!'
'You cannot command me to do that,' answered Christine. 'I am your wedded wife. I have never given you cause to be dissatisfied with me, but have always faithfully adhered to you, up to this sad moment. You have no right to separate yourself from me without my consent, and by Almighty God I will never give it!'
'Be merciful, as our Father in Heaven is merciful!' said the preacher to the weeping Arwed. 'So far as I understand this sad history, it appears, even to me, better to permit the unhappy woman to remain with her husband. What but severe reproof and bitter scorn can she now expect in the upper world? Here, on the contrary, she can perhaps preserve a distracted mind from despair and lead it to true repentance and amendment, which is always a commendable work and acceptable to God.'
'How can I venture,' rejoined Arwed, 'to leave the poor woman here, helpless, amid the horrors of nature and the outcasts of society, whose destiny her husband must share?'
'She shall reside in my house,' promised the preacher; 'and together with my good wife I will make every possible effort to render her yoke easy and her burden light. Confide her to me, sir officer, and I will have a father's care of her.'
'Do so, reverend sir,' said Arwed, somewhat relieved by this promise, and placing a purse in the preacher's hand. 'The governor of West Bothnia will gratefully acknowledge whatever kindness you may show to his daughter.'
The preacher raised his hands in astonishment on thus learning the high rank of the person committed to his care. 'I will plead for you with your father!' said Arwed to Christine,--and, to shorten the painful scene, he hastened to re-enter the tub. The signal was given, and Arwed soon mounted to the regions of day, accompanied by the grateful prayers of those he left behind.
Arwed sat by his uncle's sick bed, and, not without some embarrassment and hesitation, gave an account of Christine's artifice, his weakness, and her final resolution. The old man exhibited no sign of anger, as Arwed had anticipated, but on the contrary nodded his assent to the arrangement. 'She knows what is proper for her,' he at length said in a trembling voice. 'Her honor is lost beyond redemption, and I therefore consider it but reasonable and proper that she should hide herself in a place so little different from the grave. Direct my steward to send a hundred ducats to Oesterby yearly, for her use, that she may not suffer from want, and henceforth name her to me no more. With her child you will do what you think proper; you have an open treasury here, but never let it come into my presence. I cannot acknowledge a child of Mac Donalbain as my grandson.'
'Is Megret still here?' asked Arwed, for the purpose of changing the subject.
'He is,' answered the governor, 'and I wish to have some conversation with you respecting him. A great change has come over him since the Ravensten expedition, and he has daily become more and more seriously misanthropic. Since he clearly ascertained that the----person was determined at all events to accompany her husband to Danemora, it seems as if an evil spirit had entered him, and obtained entire possession of his heart. I really believe the fool did not, until then, give up all hope of gaining her hand. His presence here has become disagreeable to me. He daily harasses his poor hounds, who howl about the castle like damned spirits,--shamefully over-rides his noble horses from mere caprice, and I have frequently caught him in smiling and pleased contemplation of his bloody spurs. His groom leads a miserable life with him, and I have on that account already once or twice upbraided him severely for his eccentric and irregular course. His plan of purchasing and settling himself in this vicinity seems to be wholly given up, and he has become burdensome to every living creature at the castle, but most of all to himself. I feel that my days are numbered, and would willingly die in peace. I must therefore beg of you, Arwed, in my name and in a courteous manner, to dismiss him from the castle. Should he take it ill, a duel may indeed be the consequence; but you would not hesitate to exchange a few passes for the love of your old uncle,--would you?'
'I will set about it immediately,' said Arwed, leaving the room, rejoiced to have an opportunity of forever ridding himself of the hated Frenchman.
In answer to his inquiries for Megret, Arwed learned that he had retired into the garden in company with a strange officer. He followed him there, and their voices guided him through the leafless and snow covered walks to a thick grove of yew-trees, in which Megret and the stranger were sitting. A glance through an opening in the branches of the trees discovered to him the face of Siquier, pale and wasted by disease and affliction; and the interest of a conversation which now commenced between them, chained him with irresistible power to the spot.
'What is it that you particularly want of me?' asked Megret, with mingled embarrassment and vexation. 'We have both of us so long and so carefully avoided each other, that this unexpected visit may well excite my wonder.'
'I am about to leave Sweden forever,' answered Siquier, in a desponding tone, 'and have come to take my leave of you, and to procure money for my traveling expenses.'
'Money for traveling?' murmured Megret. 'We settled with each other long since, and balanced our accounts. Above all, how came you to form the resolution of leaving Sweden?'
'You know,' answered Siquier, in a low voice and looking carefully about him, 'with what ignominy common report has branded my honor since the king's death. I still hoped that those suspicions would gradually die away, but they continued daily to strengthen and increase, and I learned that my enemies with witty insolence pronounced my once honorable name, _Sicaire_, thus, by a slight change of sound expressing the accusation with that atrocious word. Two duels followed, and still the rumor continued to spread. Had I fought half the army, it would have been unavailing. Finally my mental sufferings overpowered my physical strength. A raging fever seized me, and...' He ceased.
'And then?' asked Megret, with painful anxiety.
'In the paroxysms,' stammered Siquier, almost inaudibly, 'I am said to have accused myself of Charles's murder, and to have thrown up my windows and begged Sweden's pardon for the crime.'
'What consequence could they attach to such silly phantasies?' asked Megret, turning deadly pale.
'The government,' continued Siquier, 'had me confined in a mad-house, and when I recovered I received my dismission, with an injunction to leave the kingdom.'
'Are you also, like myself, dismissed?' cried Megret, with a ferocious laugh. 'They are right! The lemons have been squeezed, why should they not sweep out the useless peels?'
'It is dreadful to have no means of escaping the gnawing worm in the heart,' said Siquier, 'but, between ourselves, Megret, have we deserved anything better?'
While saying this he seized Megret's hand and gave him a piercing glance. The latter angrily tore himself from his grasp.
'You know our former agreement,' said he moodily, 'never to allude to bye-gone occurrences, even in our most secret conversations.'
'You are right,' said Siquier, with a look and tone of horror. 'The past is, for us, a black night, full of blood and flames! Let us wait until it re-appear in eternal futurity!'
'Here is money,' said Megret, placing a heavy purse of gold in his hand. 'Go and prosper.'
'It contains more than thirty pieces of silver,' said Siquier, weighing the purse in a sort of mental abstraction. 'There is more than enough to purchase a potter's field for a wanderer's grave!'
'The fever has weakened you, poor Siquier!' exclaimed Megret, with forced laughter. 'You have grown learned in the scriptures, and will no doubt become one of the professing brothers of La Trappe, in your old age. Do hasten to get there.'
'Mock me not, seducer!' said Siquier, grating his teeth and grasping the hilt of his sword. After a few moments he observed, 'you are right! I believe in a hereafter,--I believe in future rewards and punishments, and may I therefore live to repent and reform. You entertain a different belief, and you have only to shoot yourself when your conscience awakens from its death-sleep!'
'That may become advisable!' said Megret, in a low tone, and both remained sitting near each other, their arms resting on their knees, and their faces buried in their hands. They remained silent, each absorbed in his own reflections, while the thickly falling flakes of snow gradually wrapped them in white mantles, without attracting notice.
At length a heavy sigh escaped from Siquier's laboring breast. He rose up, threw the purse of gold before Megret's feet, and suddenly left the garden, without bidding him farewell. Megret, uttering no word, remained sitting in the same posture, and Arwed was detained motionless for some time, by the feelings which this singular and dreadful disclosure awakened, and by a want of decision, which of the two first to call to account for their hidden deed of horror. He finally concluded: 'why should I contend with the miserable man, whom the judgment of God has already stricken, whose marrow has been already consumed by sickness and remorse, who has neither strength nor courage to oppose me, and who, perhaps, would welcome death from my hand? No, the insolent transgressor, in all the pride and bloom of life, shall be the object of my wrath--the _seducer_! as his accomplice called him. I will punish not the _knife_, but the _hand_!'--and he quickly approached the entrance to the grove, which Megret was that moment leaving.
The latter shrunk before the indignant glance of the youth. The flush of anger and the paleness of terror alternately played upon his countenance, and it was dreadful to see the two manly forms confronting each other with looks of enmity and defiance.
The fearful silence was interrupted by Arwed. 'I have overheard your conversation with Siquier, colonel,' said he, 'and, as you know how strong was the love I bore the king, you will not be surprised when I declare to you that we must fight!'
'You have an especial passion for pistol-shooting!' calmly and jestingly replied Megret. 'Probably you wish to revive the custom of the ancient pagans, with whom the companions in arms of a hero prince reciprocally slaughtered each other on his grave; as an evidence of their love and respect for him.'
'Name your time and place!' cried Arwed, whose anger was increased by his insolent witticisms.
'Eight days from this, about the same hour,' answered Megret, after some little reflection, 'in the first iron mine of Danemora.'
'That is a late and distant rendezvous,' said Arwed. 'You will not let me wait for you there in vain?'
The Frenchman's eyes flashed, and in his anger he resembled an evil spirit in the human form. 'Young man!' he cried, 'doubt every thing--doubt even of Megret's eternal salvation--but doubt not his word or his courage,--or you will compel him to annihilate you even against his will.' And with a proud step he left the garden.
Some days later, Arwed, prepared for his journey, approached the sick bed of his uncle to take leave of him.
'You are going once more to Danemora?' asked the old man. 'What occasion calls you there?'
'I wish to see how it goes with the poor Christine,' answered Arwed, unwilling to disturb the sick man by naming the true motive.
'You are deceiving me,' said the old man reprovingly. 'Your business is of a more unpleasant nature. You have executed the charge I gave you. Megret has left us, and your journey relates to him. Danemora is only a pretext to keep me in ignorance.'
'Truly no,' answered Arwed. 'Megret has appointed it for our place of meeting.'
'Is it so!' cried the old man. 'I am sorry for it, and have a thousand times repented of the charge I gave you. It would be a dreadful thing if you should fall in this miserable combat. You can and must yet become right useful to your father-land. Promise me at least that you will pursue this affair no further than honor absolutely demands.'
'Forgive me, dear uncle,' said Arwed. 'I cannot give you that promise. But one of us will leave the field alive. Yet quiet yourself with the assurance that it was not your request, with which indeed there was no necessity for my compliance, which occasions this duel; it has a more weighty cause.
'What can that be?' doubtingly replied the uncle.
'Excuse my naming it to you,' answered Arwed. 'I fight not for our house, nor for my own honor. I fight for Sweden!'
'Go then, bold combatant, and may God fight with you!' cried the old man. 'It is possible you may not find me alive when you return. For which reason receive now my thanks for your filial love and truth. That I consider myself your father in the full sense of the word, my testament, which I have already deposited with the high court at Stockholm, will inform you. I have also written to your father and to the queen. You must become my successor in the government of West Bothnia.'
'Never!' cried Arwed, impetuously.
'You must!' persisted his uncle. 'Not for love of the queen, nor for your own advantage; but for the welfare of this province. I may be permitted to say that with me the office has been in good hands, and I am unwilling that an unworthy courtier or unfeeling soldier should demolish what has cost me so many long years to build up. You are intelligent, brave and good; and you have, with me, become familiar with the civil duties. You are the most suitable person, and you must be governor; where the happiness of the people is concerned, anger, vindictiveness, and similar trifling hindrances, must not dare to raise their heads in such a heart as yours.'
'My dear uncle!' said the yielding Arwed, and kneeling down before the bed, he kissed the invalid's wasted hand.
'God bless thee, my son!' said the latter, laying his hand upon the youth's head.
'And also the poor Christine! is it not so?' asked Arwed.'
'Tell her--I--do not curse her!' cried the old man with a severe struggle; 'and now leave me. These feelings are too strong for my exhausted powers.'
He turned his face to the wall, and Arwed departed in sadness.
At the appointed hour Arwed entered the shaft of the first mine in Danemora, with his pistols under his arm. In consequence of the perfect mental repose with which he proceeded upon his bloody business, he had this time a better opportunity to look about him and observe the peculiarities of the monstrous cavity. A strange feeling seized him when he took a nearer view of the active operations of this subterranean world. The miserable huts and wooden booths here and there erected among the rocks; the larger hut with a small belfry which denoted the church of the immense abyss; the market, which the venders of the indispensable necessaries of life, attracted by all-powerful avarice, held here below; the ceaseless prosecution of the mining operations--gave to the whole scene the appearance of an abortive attempt to create a subterranean city; while the black dresses and earth colored faces of the perpetual residents of these melancholy regions were well calculated to strengthen the illusion. The whole was lighted only by pans of pitch which fumed and smoked here and there in their elevated niches. No glimmer of daylight penetrated there. The firmament of these abodes was the roof of the mines, which, indeed, had no sun, but had its fixed and wandering stars in the fires, torches and lamps of the workmen--and, in the frequent explosions which took place, their thunder and lightning, like the upper world. Arwed bent his course directly to the little edifice which served for the church, and upon reaching it discovered in its rear a small building, which rather more than the others deserved the name of a house. It was the dwelling of the clergyman. Upon entering he discovered Christine, whom sorrow and confinement had rendered still more pale and emaciated, busily plying her needle by lamp light.
'Ah, Arwed!' cried she overjoyed, and springing towards him she held out her bandaged hand as before. A dark cloud soon flitted over her beautiful countenance, and she asked distrustfully, 'have you no secret object in this visit?'
'A very secret and serious one,' answered Arwed--'from which, however, you have nothing to fear. On the contrary, I bring you your father's permission to remain here, the consolation that your child is well attended to, and the assurance of a pecuniary allowance sufficient to preserve you from want.'
'And I have to thank you, still you, for all these blessings!' cried Christine with grateful enthusiasm. 'Ah, how happy you make me, and at the same time how inexpressibly unhappy!'
'Poor Christine!' said he with deep sympathy--'How miserable has the vehemence of thy nature rendered thee!'
He laid his pistols upon, the table, and listened to ascertain if any one was approaching.
'You said just now,' remarked Christine sorrowfully, 'that a secret and serious purpose brought you here. I hope those weapons which you have brought with you into this peaceful hut, have no connection with it?'
Arwed walked silently to the window and looked impatiently out into the eternal night.
'Do you apprehend any further malice from my husband?' Christine anxiously asked. 'I will be answerable for him with my life. He reveres you as our guardian angel. Moreover he has become much better in this abode of darkness than he was in the upper world; and should I with the aid of time be enabled to banish the deep sorrow which still constantly hovers about him, I have reason to hope that we may once more attain to something like happiness.'
Arwed, who had scarcely listened to the poor sufferer, now suddenly asked, 'has not Megret been recently here?'
'Do you then seek him?' cried Christine with astonishment. 'Yes, he was here scarcely an hour since. He caused Mac Donalbain to be called from his labor, and retired far into the mine in private and earnest conversation with him. I had already become somewhat alarmed on account of their long absence. Megret is a fiend, and bears the most bitter hatred towards my husband.'
At this moment Arwed heard voices from without. He raised the window, and to his astonishment saw Megret arm in arm with Mac Donalbain and in earnest conversation with an old clerk of the mine.
'I repeat it my friend,' said Megret, 'your way of exploding is bad. Greater results may be produced with half the labor and powder, when one begins right.'
'I have all proper respect for your mathematical sciences, sir officer,' the clerk peevishly answered; 'but still I think that we, who are in constant practice here, must better understand how to obtain the ore than you can by theoretical calculations.'
'Must not the engineer be also familiar with the practice?' asked Megret. 'Our mines traverse every variety of earth, and we are often under the necessity of calculating the resistance of walls and masses of stone.'
The clerk, who adhered as pertinaciously to old customs as the ore to its native mountains, shook his head in token of disbelief.
'You want proof,' said Megret, with some apparent irritation. 'Show me a suitable place and let me spring a mine in my way. I will pay for the labor and powder if I do not make my words good.'
'Vivat!' cried the clerk, confident of victory; at that moment Arwed stepped directly in front of Megret, with his pistols in his hand and bowed in silence.
'I rejoice to find you here,' said Megret with great equanimity, courteously returning his greeting. 'Allow me but to settle a contest between the old practice and the new science, and I shall immediately afterwards have the pleasure to be at your service.'
During these few moments Mac Donalbain had hastened into the house, and now returning in a state of great excitement, seized Megret by the arm and drew him away.
The clerk followed them, talking to himself and gesticulating with great animation, and they all soon disappeared in the dark windings of the mine.
Christine now came out, casting her troubled glances in every direction. As soon as she perceived Arwed she hastened to him. 'Mac Donalbain was with me just now,' said she anxiously. 'He pressed me silently to his bosom, and then rushed forth as if frantic! Where is he? where is Megret?'
'Megret is essaying a new method of springing mines,' answered Arwed, 'and will soon be here again.'
'And Mac Donalbain has accompanied him!' cried the trembling wife. 'I fear some mischief is on foot here.'
'Causeless apprehension!' said Arwed; 'the clerk is with them. Megret's undertaking will require the presence of several workmen, and his honor as an officer is pledged for his speedy return.'
'What have you to do with that bad man?' asked the still suspicious Christine--but the approach of two men prevented a reply. They were Swedenborg and the superintendent of the mines. The latter separated from Swedenborg with a respectful inclination, and passed on in obedience to the calls of duty to some other portion of the mine. Swedenborg however advanced towards Arwed.
'I greet you, vigorous swimmer upon the sea of misfortune,' said Swedenborg to Arwed, offering his hand in a most friendly manner.
'Welcome to your kingdom, sir mining-counsellor!' answered Arwed. 'What news do you bring from the upper world into this abyss?'
'I bring news of a diet which will take Ulrika's crown and place it upon her husband's head,' said Swedenborg; 'of an armistice with Denmark, and peace with Poland and Prussia.'
'And Russia?' asked Arwed hastily.
'Remains implacable, and is making new preparations,' answered Swedenborg, shrugging his shoulders.
'These false steps are a great misfortune to my father-land!' cried Arwed despondingly. 'Peace with powerful Russia should have been the first object.'
Swedenborg had meantime kept his eyes immovably fixed upon the youth, and now appeared to have subjected the lineaments of his face to a sufficient trial. He became so gloomy, and the glances of his black eyes so piercing, that Arwed could hardly support it.
'How came you by this love of peace?' he finally asked the youth in a reproachful tone, 'when your heart is destitute of it, and you have descended into this mine with bloody intentions?'
'If your spiritual eyes are sharp enough to read my heart,' answered Arwed, with surprise, 'you must know and honor the motives which actuate me.'
'Every motive is blameworthy,' answered Swedenborg, with an elevated voice, 'which induces an earthworm to endeavor to anticipate the dispensations of Providence. Yet will His mercy spare you this sin; for behold, the arm of the fearful Nemesis is already raised, and at the Lord's command it will fall in destruction upon the criminal.'
Christine had drawn close to Arwed during this conversation, and he now perceived the feverish trembling of her frame, caused by Swedenborg's prophecy.
At this moment a young miner came and asked, 'where shall I find major Gyllenstierna.'
'Here he stands!' answered Arwed, 'probably you wish to bring me to the officer who was just now here.'
'No, he merely sends you this billet,' said the young man, departing.
'What can he have to write to me about, situated as we are?' Arwed peevishly exclaimed. Unfolding the billet, which was written in pencil, and stepping to the nearest pitch-pan, he read as follows:
'To appease the manes of your king, you have demanded satisfaction of me. I had however previously promised it to myself and to myself therefore, precedence is due. From you I have only to expect a _possible_ death. I shall inflict it upon myself with a surer hand. Mac Donalbain shares my fate. In gratitude to the countess Gyllenstierna for the manner in which she rejected my addresses, I have persuaded her husband that he belongs to this earth as little as myself. Many will think the manner of my death strange; but I wish to die in the way of my profession, and at the same time to preserve my body from the ignominy of a judicial investigation. I have the honor to greet you. _Au revoir_, I dare not say. MEGRET.'
The horror-stricken Arwed had hardly read to the end, when suddenly the whole broad space swam in a sea of fire. A terrible explosion, as of a powder magazine, of which echo increased the frightful roar a thousand fold, shook the ground under Arwed's feet, and displaced heavy masses of stone from the sides of the cavern which fell with a crash to the bottom of the mine. Loud screams suddenly arose on all sides, to which a mournful silence immediately succeeded, and from the direction in which Megret and Mac Donalbain had gone, came rolling in a dense white-gray powder-smoke, which twirled in waving clouds along the top of the arch, and soon filling the whole mine, wrapped every object in its impenetrable veil.
'What was that?' stammered Christine, clinging to Arwed for support.
'God's judgment!' solemnly and majestically answered Swedenborg. 'Wo to the sinner who wickedly and presumptuously draws it down upon his head before the appointed time.'
'Let us go and see if it be possible to render any assistance,' proposed Arwed; and proceeded with Swedenborg toward the place whence the smoke issued. Christine followed them with a misgiving heart. They were met by the old clerk, who ran up to them with a black and disfigured face.
'You appear to have been near the scene of the accident,' said Arwed to him. 'Are there many people injured?'
'Thank God only two; who, moreover, are no great loss!' answered the clerk, turning again to show them the way. 'An officer, wishing to instruct us how to blow out the ore, so managed that instead of the ore he blew himself into the air, and a piece of the roof of the mine with him.'
'The explosion was too violent for a mere removal of ore,' remarked Swedenborg.
'Very true, most honored sir,' answered the clerk. 'There also went with it a small cask of powder which was standing near.'
By this time they had arrived at the place. The thick smoke almost suffocated them. The torches of the miners, hurrying to and fro, like nebulous stars, faintly lighted the scene of destruction. A monstrous mountain mass, consisting mostly of rocks and stones, had become loosened by the force of the shock, and covered the bottom to a great height with fragments, through the fissures of which little flames were seen playing.
'They will lie quietly in this coffin until the last day!' observed the clerk.
'In God's name!' shrieked Christine, 'who is the other sufferer?'
'The brigand leader, who was sentenced here for life,' answered the clerk, with indifference.
'Mac Donalbain!' murmured the poor wife, sinking lifeless to the earth.
Christine lay at the parsonage in that last hard struggle which releases the soul from its earthly imprisonment. At her bed-side sat Arwed, with humid eyes, his hands in the cold grasp of hers. Near her pillow stood Swedenborg, with his piercing prophet-glance fixed immovably upon the sufferer.
'The symptoms of death are already observable,' whispered he to the weeping curate. 'Her end is near.'
'She has suffered so much,' said Arwed, 'that if her heart were iron it must break under these hard and repeated blows.'
At this moment Christine suddenly rose in her bed, turned her beauteous eyes with heavenly tenderness upon Arwed, and eagerly pressed his hand to her bosom.
'At the brink of the grave,' said she, 'all false appearances must vanish. So near the source of eternal truth, I may now speak the truth to you. I have loved you, Arwed, loved you with all the powers of my passionate soul, from the moment when you stood before me in the knight's hall in the full perfection of youth and manliness. But this love was my misery, for I was already secretly married. The caprices with which I often tormented you, alas, they came from a bleeding heart! At Ravensten did Mac Donalbain's infamous profession first become fully clear to me, and I made every possible effort to withdraw him from it. But the chains of vice hold strong! Only by slow and gentle degrees could my husband disengage himself from his associates; and, before he had time to accomplish the work, his punishment overtook him. What I have done for him was but the performance of a wife's duty. His self-murder is my divorce for this world and the next, and now my only consolation is, that I shall be able to extend to you a FREE hand when we hereafter meet in eternal light.'
As she proceeded, her voice had increased in clearness and fulness of tone, her eye became bright and flashing, and purple roses burned upon her wasted cheeks.
'You have spoken too fast and too earnestly, countess,' said the curate. 'In your present situation this excitement may cause your death.'
'I have it already in my heart, reverend sir,' said the invalid in a low voice; 'and I know but too well that it is too late to preserve life. Yet I thank you for this care, as well as for the religious consolation you have afforded me in this last heavy trial.'
She held out her hand to him, which the weeping man pressed to his lips, and the deep silence which followed, was only broken by the sobs of those present.
'I have now but one wish in this world,' resumed Christine. 'Alas, but one, the fulfilment of which would soften the pangs of death; but I dare not hope.'
'Thy son is mine!' cried Arwed. 'By God and my own honor, I will adopt him and he shall bear the name and arms of Gyllenstierna.'
'I know,' answered Christine, 'that you will do whatever is great and good, and I have ceased to be anxious about the fate of my child since I confided it to you. But my poor old father--' and here her voice faltered,--'that I may not once more kneel before him and implore his pardon, that, that alone embitters my death.'
'Poor woman!' cried Arwed, who witnessed the extent of her sorrow with the perfect conviction that no consolation could be offered.
'Hope, sinner!' cried Swedenborg with emotion, laying his hand upon Christine's head. 'True repentance may do much; a weeping, penitent child, it presses strongly against the gates of heaven; and behold! the ruby gates fly open, and the eternal mercy, sitting upon a throne woven of rays of light, takes the weeping child softly to her bosom and dries her tears with maternal love!'
He stepped apart, folded his hands, and silently and fervently raised his eyes on high. Christine also folded her hands and moved her lips in a murmured prayer.
'Thou art heard!' suddenly exclaimed Swedenborg; and at the same instant Christine sprang up, and with outspread arms joyfully cried, 'my father!'
A white ray floated through the room, and the strings of the piano reverberated like the dying harmony of an Eolian harp.
'He has pardoned me, he has preceded me, he expects me there!' cried Christine in ecstasy, and immediately sank back upon her pillow.
Swedenborg approached her, and as his glance fell upon her fixed eyes, he exclaimed with emotion: 'she is dead!'
And the clock struck the third hour of the morning.
The black funereal flag was waving from the towers of Gyllensten as Arwed slowly approached it with the remains of poor Christine. The tolling of bells was heard from the castle chapel and from Umea, and the domestics of the family surrounded the carriage with weeping eyes.
'How is my uncle?' asked Arwed, with fearful apprehension.
'I bring you his last greeting,' said the gray old steward, with a trembling voice. 'He went to his God early on the day before yesterday, about the third hour. His last word was, 'Christine!''
Long years had passed, and Gustavus the third sat firmly upon Sweden's throne, as at Lubec a noble dame, upon whose pure beauty time had left no traces, sat upon a sofa in her cabinet. She had leaned her thoughtful head upon her full white arm, while the strong heaving of her bosom and the mild fire of her large brown eyes betrayed the sad and absorbing nature of the reminiscences which occupied her mind. The door was softly opened, and a blooming maiden cautiously protruded her head into the room and was about to withdraw it again.
'Come in, Georgina!' cried the dame. 'I am not yet asleep. Have you any thing to say to me!'
'A young officer wishes to speak with you, mamma,' answered the beautiful maiden, entering.
'An officer?--of the city militia?' asked the mother with some surprise.
'No mamma,' answered the maiden, laughing. 'He appears altogether different from them. He wears a short blue jacket with straw-colored facings turned up, a white band upon his arm, the sword belt over the shoulder, and a round hat looped up, with a black plume.'
'It is a Swede?' cried the mother with great vehemence. 'His name?'
'He will only tell it to yourself,' answered Georgina; 'which I consider particularly ill-bred.'
'It is very wonderful,' said the mother:--'ask him to come in.'
Georgina went, and soon returned, ushering in a well formed youth with the head of an Apollo, who reverently bowed to the dame, and immediately resumed his erect military position.
He would have spoken; but his eyes had wandered from the elder form to the younger, and the lovely maiden's face and figure embarrassed him so much that it cost him time and effort to collect himself.
'My father begs to assure your grace of his high respect,' he finally faltered out, 'and requests permission to place in your own hands an autograph from his majesty the king of Sweden.'
'Who is your father?' asked the lady with a trembling voice, whilst her eyes seemed to be seeking for remembered features in the unknown face.
'A noble Swede,' answered the youth.
'And his name?' asked the lady, with a movement as if she would fly to him.
'He has the honor to be an old acquaintance of your grace,' continued the officer.
'And his name?' cried she, with a fire which seemed inconsistent with her years.
'The governor of West Bothnia, count Gyllenstierna,' was the answer.
The lady turned pale and sank back upon the sofa. Her bosom labored powerfully, and the anxious daughter hastened to her with Cologne water.
'Leave me,' said she, averting her head. 'My nerves are yet strong. I faint not so easily.'
With tottering steps she advanced towards the youth and examined his features yet more intently than before.
'A certain family likeness,' said she, 'is undoubtedly to be found in his face; yet I wonder that it does not appear more distinctly.'
'I am only the adopted son of the count Gyllenstierna, whose name I bear,' answered the youth. 'The count has always remained unmarried.'
The lady sighed and motioned him to retire.
'When may my father wait upon your grace?' courteously asked the youth.
'In an hour I hope to have sufficiently recovered,' answered she--and, with a glance at the charming daughter which called a blush into her cheek, he took his leave.
'Mamma,' said she at length, in a tone of timid remonstrance, 'if the Swedish count is your old acquaintance, you ought to have invited the young count to come with him. He is at any rate his foster son, and such a modest young man.'
'You appear to be pleased with him, Georgina?' said the mother, looking earnestly at her daughter. The latter dropped her eyes to the floor, blushed deeply, and remained silent.
'It is our duty to suffer ourselves to be sought,' said the matron to the maiden. 'It is proper for the other sex to seek. If the young man's heart speak as prematurely as yours, he will come, even without an invitation.'
'You are wholly right, mamma!' cried the daughter, as if now first struck by an important truth, passionately kissing her hand.
'Leave me alone, my child,' said the mother. 'I have need of solitude to prepare myself for a sweet, sad hour. Seat yourself meantime, at your piano, and practise the bass of that beautiful sonata for four hands.
'Now?' cried Georgina, clasping her hands in despair. 'Ah, mamma! I positively cannot practise now.'
'It may perhaps cost you some effort,' said the mother, smiling, 'but it will do you good. Go to your practice, my daughter.'
Georgina departed, shrugging her shoulders, and the storm of emotion, so long restrained, once again floated over the face of the mother, who had hitherto struggled with all her power, to conceal her feelings from the eyes of observers. 'God give me strength for the sorrow and the joy of this interview!' cried she, sinking upon the sofa.
The hour had struck. The daughter opened the door of the cabinet, and, accompanied by his adopted son, Arwed count Gyllenstierna entered. Neither years nor sufferings had been able to bow his tall figure. The lineaments of his face, however, told of sad mental struggles and glorious victories. His locks of gold were bleached to silver, and upon his newly made black national uniform shone the magnificent seraphim-order, and with the sword and crown of the order of military merit, the peaceful sheaf of the order of Vasa. He remained standing, and cast upon the beloved of his youth, from his large blue and still brilliant eyes, a glance which cut her to the soul. Lady baroness von Eyben!' said he, in a tone in which love and anger, reproach and rapture, were strangely mingled.
It was too much for the heart of the matron. 'Not so, Arwed, not so!' cried she, beseechingly, and attempted to approach him; but, her heart impelling her forward while profound respect held her back, she remained irresolutely standing in the centre of the room.
'Please to permit, baroness,' said Arwed, 'that my son and your daughter retire to the ante-chamber. My communication requires no witnesses.'
The young pair seemed to be well pleased with the proposition. The baroness looked doubtingly at Arwed, as if she feared a private interview; but finally her heart conquered. She nodded permission to Georgina, and the two disappeared with a celerity that astonished the mother.
The former youthful lovers were alone. Georgina motioned Arwed to a seat upon the sofa, placed herself beside him, and both remained a long time silent, whilst the past was loudly speaking in their hearts.
'Georgina!' at length Arwed exclaimed, seizing her hand.
'Be tranquil, dear Arwed!' said she. 'If the strong man cannot control his feelings, how can a feeble woman command hers? Let us first speak of the present. Have you not a letter for me from the king?'
'Cruel!' sighed Arwed, drawing forth a letter and solemnly rising from his seat, 'You have petitioned his majesty for the restoration of your father's confiscated property in the German provinces. I bring you the king's answer.'
'The person selected as its bearer is a guaranty of a merciful decision,' said Georgina, also rising. With trembling hands she took the letter, unfolded and attempted to read it,--but her vision became indistinct, her hands shook, and at length amid streaming tears she cried, 'I cannot! Read the letter for me, dear Arwed.'
'I esteem the memory of the renowned and unfortunate baron von Goertz too much to receive without emotion the intelligence that there is yet remaining one of those children who were made orphans by the tyranny and shocking injustice of the queen Ulrika Eleonore and of the persons who presided in her courts and councils. His innocent blood has remained too long unavenged. Sweden, through long, unhappy, desolating, distracting years, has paid the tribute demanded by the anger of heaven for the crime committed against a great and unfortunate man. I therefore wish, as first citizen of my native land, in the name of that native land, to hasten the reparation of the injustice of my predecessors. To this title, which I look upon as one of the fairest granted to me by Providence, I add that of my family, for whom Goertz was made an offering. You may easily judge, madam, how very much I am disposed to grant you that justice which you claim as daughter and heiress of the deceased baron von Goertz.'
Georgina, almost frantic with joy, snatched the letter from Arwed's hand, and pressed it to her lips and heart. 'Lord God, we praise thee,--Lord God, we thank thee!' she shouted in her exultation, sinking upon her knee, and raising the paper towards heaven in her clasped hands.
'It is truly a royal letter,' said the deeply moved Arwed; 'but such a letter from him would surprise no one who knew him.'
'Oh, my father!' cried Georgina, holding the writing up towards heaven, 'learn in thy place of bliss that thy honor is restored before the world, and that thy happy daughter has been instrumental in its accomplishment!'
'You see, my dear Georgina,' said Arwed, 'that Sweden is not unjust. The public character of a people can only appear through its government. That justice which the cruel Ulrika, the weak Frederick, the chained Adolphus Frederick, derided or denied, the worthy Gustavus, now that his hands are free, grants in the fullest measure.'
'Much,' said Georgina, endeavoring by the introduction of new topics of conversation to allay the violence of her emotions, 'much was said in Germany of the revolution which delivered the crown from the usurped supremacy of the royal council, and I, at least, have cause to bless the Nemesis who guided it.'
'That occurrence,' remarked Arwed, 'stands like a rare and brilliant meteor in the horizon of Europe. A national revolution, originating with the king himself, accomplished in a few days, without bloodshed, and calculated to promote the welfare of the whole country, is perhaps unparalleled in the history of the world!'
Both remained a long time silent. At length Arwed inquired, 'how is your sister, the good little Magdalena?'
'She died many years since, in Hamburgh, the wife of the privy counsellor von Laffert,' answered Georgina.
'And you--are a widow?' he asked in a low tone.
'Since four years,' she answered with downcast eyes.
'It is the penalty of age,' cried he, sorrowfully, 'that, one by one, all whom we have loved go before us to the eternal world. Life's way becomes every day more dreary and desolate, and wo to the unhappy being to whom remains not even one companion of the good old times. His is a solitary death, with none to drop a tear of regret upon his grave.'
'Very true!' said Georgina with deep feeling, and wiping the tears from her eyes.
'Georgina!' cried Arwed, suddenly and with vehemence; 'in my youth I was never able to subdue or conceal the emotions of my heart. Age has not changed me in that respect. That I might see you once again, and have an opportunity to lay before you my last request, I have obtained the king's permission to be the bearer of this letter. Hear me with kindness.'
'Spare me,' said she, greatly agitated.
'Your father's honor is restored to all its original brightness,' continued Arwed, without heeding her remark. 'My father has long slept in his grave. The causes no longer exist which once forbade my earthly happiness. I have sacredly kept my truth. You are again free. Do not now refuse me your hand.'
'Oh, my God!' cried the terrified Georgina. 'No, it is not possible!'
'Refuse me not your hand, Georgina!' said Arwed with all his former tenderness of tone.
'Dear Arwed,' answered she, with a smile, 'what would our children say? _Theirs_ is the season of love.'
'How happy is youth!' exclaimed Arwed, sighing.
'Honorable age has also its pleasures and enjoyments,' said Georgina, placing her hand in his.
'When it wanders arm in arm with the chosen companion of its youth,' answered Arwed with emotion. 'But when it is compelled to creep alone to a solitary grave, then are honors and riches a miserable compensation for a life without an object.'
'Arwed!' exclaimed Georgina in the sweet tone of former times.
'Wilt thou be mine?' cried Arwed, passionately.
'Thine, eternally!' murmured she, while a faint blush threw the glow of undying youth over her cheeks, and she sank sobbing upon his bosom.
[Footnote 1: A French word, signifying _assassin_.]