Part 17 out of 22
"Yes, sire. They seem to be officers of high rank making a
reconnaissance, probably with a view to finding a crossing for their
army. They sometimes approach so close that the sharpshooters, who have
eyes like telescopes, recognize the King of Prussia in the group."
"It is quite possible that in the excitement of a survey, the king may
approach the shore. In the event of such an accident, I have a command
to give to your men. As soon as they recognize the king, they shall
present arms, and remain thus until he is entirely out of sight. I
desire, through this courtesy, to express the respect due to a crowned
head, a great general, and a personal friend of my own. This order must
be strictly enforced by the officer of the day." [Footnote: The
emperor's own words. See Gross-Hoffinger, i., p 431.]
The emperor then inclined his head, and rode off with his staff. At each
outpost the order for presenting arms to Frederick was repeated, and the
officers charged with its execution to the letter.
Late in the day Joseph returned from his long and tiresome visit of
inspection. But so far from suffering fatigue, he sprang from his horse
with a light bound, and his countenance was as free from gloom as it had
been before the arrival of the Grand Duke of Tuscany.
"Lacy," said he, taking the arm of the field-marshal, "I am about to
explain to you the cause of my over-politeness to my abhorred enemy. You
must have been astounded at the orders I have been giving to-day."
"To tell the truth, I was surprised. But I thought that in the nobleness
of your heart, sire, you were proving to me that you had relinquished
all thoughts of revenge."
"Nevertheless, Lacy, my hate is unappeased and I have kept my word. I
have already had my revenge. I have saved the King of Prussia from the
bullet of an assassin." [Footnote: This whole chapter is historical. See
Riedler's archives for 1831, and Gross-Hoffinger, i., p. 427.]
A LETTER TO THE EMPRESS OF RUSSIA.
With flushed face and panting bosom, Maria Theresa paced her cabinet,
sometimes glancing with angry eyes at the heaps of papers that covered
her escritoire; then wandering hastily to and fro, perfectly insensible
to the fatigue which in her advancing years generally overwhelmed her
whenever she attempted to move otherwise than leisurely. The empress had
received bad news from every quarter; but worst of all were the tidings
that came from Bohemia. For more than a year the Austrian and Prussian
armies had threatened one another; and yet nothing had been accomplished
toward the settlement of the Bavarian succession.
Maria Theresa, shocked by the threat which Joseph had made to her
through the Grand Duke of Tuscany, had broken off her negotiations with
Frederick, and had sacrificed the dearest wishes of her heart to appease
the fury of her imperial son. Notwithstanding this, no battle had been
fought, for Frederick was quite as desirous as the empress could be, to
avoid an engagement. He had declared war against his old adversary with
the greatest alacrity; but when it became necessary to manoeuvre his
army, the hero of so many fights was obliged to confess in the secrecy
of his own heart that his gouty hand was impotent to draw the sword, and
his tottering limbs were fitter to sink into an arm-chair than to
bestride a war-horse.
Irritable, crabbed, and low-spirited, his campaign had proved a
disastrous failure. Instead of planning battles, he had planned
pillaging and foraging expeditions, and his hungry and disaffected army
had converted the rich fields of Bohemia into a gloomy and desolate
waste. At last succoring winter came to the help of the oppressed
Bohemians, and both armies went into winter quarters. Maria Theresa had
employed the season, which forced her ambitious son to inactivity, in
new negotiations for peace. Count von Mercy had sought for intervention
on the part of France, and Baron Thugut had made new proposals to
Prussia. Until to-day the empress had indulged the hope of terminating
this unhappy and ridiculous war; but her hopes had been frustrated by
the dispatches she had just received from France and Bohemia. Count von
Mercy wrote that so far from accepting the role of mediator, the French
king expostulated with him upon the injustice of the claims of Austria,
and earnestly recommended their total relinquishment as the only road to
Another courier from Joseph announced that the winter season having
almost closed, he hoped that he might now be permitted to prosecute the
war with firmness and vigor. Circumstances were favorable to Austria,
for General Wurmser had succeeded in surprising the Prince of
Philippsthal, and in driving the Prussian garrison from their
stronghold. The emperor, therefore, declared his intention of giving
battle to Frederick, that he might at one stroke free Bohemia from the
presence of a tyrannical and merciless enemy.
These were the tidings which had flooded the heart of the empress with
"I must have peace," thought she, as, perfectly unconscious of the fact,
she still paced the floor of her cabinet. "I cannot go to my grave
burdened with the crime of an unrighteous war. Peace! peace! Heavenly
Father, send us peace! Something I must do, and that at once; and if my
son still vituperates his unhappy mother, I know that my subjects, the
people of Germany, and all Europe, will sustain me by their
Filled with the idea, she approached her escritoire, and again her eyes
rested upon the papers and pamphlets that lay there. Her cheeks flushed
and her eyes flashed fire, as lifting from the desk a heavy package, she
threw it down with violence, exclaiming:
"Has that Schrotter been printing another absurd pamphlet, braying to
the world of our rights to Bavaria? I must stop that man's mouth, and
teach him discretion!"
Here the empress rang and gave two messages to the page who answered the
summons. "Let Prince Kaunitz be informed that I would be happy to see
his highness as soon as possible. Send a messenger to Counsellor von
Schrotter, and let him be here in an hour."
So saying, the empress, who at last began to feel that she was
exercising her limbs beyond all power of endurance, sank into an
arm-chair and continued her reflections. They were any thing but
consolatory. She could not humble herself to make any more proposals to
Frederick. He was so arrogant that he might answer in such a way as to
make war the only alternative for Austria. But where to go for a
mediator? France had refused, and Marie Antoinette had with difficulty
obtained from her husband a promise not to sustain Prussia.
"I have a most disobliging son-in-law in Louis," thought the empress,
"and if Marie Antoinette were not in a condition where anxiety of mind
might be fatal to her life, I should very soon speak plainly to the
king, and let him understand distinctly how little I care for his
approval or disapproval! But I must be patient for my daughter's sake;
and if she gives birth to a dauphin, I shall be too happy to quarrel
with her stubborn king. I had reckoned upon France, however, and I am
disappointed and grieved."
So saying, the empress bent once more over her papers, and this time she
opened a dispatch from her ambassador at St. Petersburg. She began to
"The King of Prussia is asking succor from Russia. The empress is quite
ready to grant it, and has already marched an auxiliary force into
Galicia. But she exacts that her troops shall act independently of
Frederick, and requires of him for the prosecution of her war with
Turkey, a subsidy of two million of thalers. The king is indignant at
her exactions, so that the opportunity now offers to dissolve this
dangerous alliance. If the empress-queen could bring herself to pen a
letter to Catharine requesting her intervention--"
"No," exclaimed Maria Theresa, interrupting herself, "to such
degradation I cannot stoop! It would be too base!" She threw down the
letter, and frowning leaned her head upon her hand. "How," thought she,
"could a virtuous woman write to that abandoned wretch who degrades the
divine birthright of royalty by a dissolute life? How could Maria
Theresa so humiliate herself as to ask succor of such a Messalina!"
The entrance of a page interrupted the empress's meditations. His
highness Prince Kaunitz regretted that he was unable to obey her
majesty's commands, as he was sick and not able to leave his room.
The empress dismissed the page, and frowned anew.
"I know perfectly well the nature of his malady," thought she. "Whenever
he desires to consult with the emperor before seeing me, he falls sick.
Whenever danger is ahead and affairs look stormy he retreats to his hole
like a discreet fox. I wish to Heaven that I too could take to my bed
and shut my eyes to all that is transpiring around us! But no,"
continued the empress with a pang of self-reproach, "I have no right to
retire from the post of danger. I must act, and act quickly, or Joseph
will be before me. Oh, my God, help me in my great need."
She re-read the dispatches from her different ambassadors, and each one
breathed the same spirit. From every court in Europe camp disapprobation
and blame. Every one of the great powers counselled peace--speedy peace,
lest all should be drawn into the strife, and Austria left to the
humiliation of struggling single-handed against every other nation in
The tears of the empress flowed fast. She could see no help on earth,
and how could she feel otherwise than resentful toward the minister and
the son who had brought her into this mortifying position? Suddenly she
dried her tears and once more took up the dispatch from St. Petersburg.
The silence in that little room was broken only by her sighs, and the
rustling of the papers which she held in her hand. She paused, and those
trembling hands fell into her lap. She threw back her head as if trying
to make a difficult resolve.
"There is one way--but oh, how disgraceful!" murmured she. Again the
gathering tears were dashed from her eyes, and she tried to read.
"It must be," sighed she, as she replaced the paper on the desk; "and if
so, it must be done quickly. Oh, my Creator! Thou alone knowest how
fearful to my heart is this sacrifice of womanly pride; but thou willest
my humiliation, and I submit! Let me drink the chalice!"
She took up her pen and began to write. Often she hesitated--threw
aside her sheet, and took another. Sometimes she read aloud what she had
written; then starting at the sound of the words, resumed her writing in
silence. At last the task was accomplished, and her eyes scanned the
"With the conviction that my honor could be intrusted to no abler hands,
I leave it to your majesty, in conjunction with France, to make such
propositions as you may esteem best calculated to promote peace. In this
trust I remain,
"Your majesty's true and devoted sister,
"MARIA THERESA." [Footnote: This letter of the empress is yet in the
archives of St. Petersburg. Coxe, who copies it word for word, saw it
there himself. See Coxe's "History of the House of Austria," vol. iv.,
As she read these words, the cheeks of the empress crimsoned with shame,
and, burying her face in her hands, she sobbed aloud. When the paroxysm
of her grief was over, her face was very pale and her eyes dim and
swollen. "I must complete the humiliation," thought she; then folding
the letter, it was directed "To Her Majesty the Empress of Russia."
She took up a tiny gold bell, and ringing it so that it gave out but a
few strokes, a portiere was raised, and Koch entered the room.
"Take a copy of this letter, and send a courier with it to St.
Petersburg. I have at last yielded to the wishes of my counsellors, and
have written to the Empress of Russia. Peace, Koch--not a word!--my
heart is not yet strong enough to bear the grief and shame of this
The private secretary had scarcely left the room, when the page
reentered, announcing Counsellor von Schrotter.
"Ah," said the empress, "he comes at the right moment. I am just in the
mood to castigate those who have displeased me."
THE GRATITUDE OF PRINCES.
The message of the empress had been received by Counsellor von Schrotter
with rapture. His heart throbbed so joyfully that its every beat sent
the quick blood bounding through his veins. The hour for acknowledgment
of his long-tried services had arrived. For years he had lived a life of
labor, research, and patient investigation. Among the deeds, parchments,
and dusty green tables of the chancery, his youth had faded to middle
age, and of its early hopes had retained but one single earthly
ambition: it was that of taking a place among learned men, and becoming
an authority of some weight in the judicial world. His pamphlets on the
Bavarian succession had lifted him to fame, and now among his countrymen
his name was beginning to be quoted as that of a great and accomplished
jurist. Nothing was needed to complete the measure of his simple joys,
save the approbation of the court, and some acknowledgment on the part
of his sovereign of the fidelity with which he had labored for so many
years in her behalf.
This precious tribute he was called upon to receive. He was to speak
himself with the Empress of Austria. So excited was he by the thought,
that the strong man trembled from head to foot; he was even more
agitated than he had been twenty years before, when he had received his
diploma as doctor of laws. Pale, but inexpressibly happy, he stood upon
the threshold of the empress's cabinet, and awaited her permission to
approach and kiss her beloved and honored hand.
Maria Theresa saw him and spoke not a word. She sat immovable in her
arm-chair, darting lightning glances upon the unconscious counsellor,
and growing every moment more enraged at the thought of his impertinent
researches, until the storm burst with all its fury upon his head. The
empress clutched the pamphlets which lay near her upon the table, and
rising from her chair, strode through the room to the door where the
unhappy author stood.
"Did you write these brochures?" asked she.
"Yes, your majesty," said Von Schrotter with a happy smile.
"Read the title-page."
Von Schrotter read: "The rights and measures of her imperial, royal, and
apostolic majesty in reference to the Bavarian succession."
"Now read the title of your first pamphlet."
"Impartial thoughts on the various questions arising from the succession
of Maximilian Joseph."
"You acknowledge the authorship of these two brochures?"
"I am proud to acknowledge them, your majesty."
"Whence it follows that you are proud to be the cause of the unholy war
which now rages throughout Germany," said the empress in a voice of
indignation. "It is you, then, whose pen has metamorphosed itself into a
sword wherewith to take the lives of thousands of good and honest men!
What right had you to publish impartial thoughts upon the Bavarian
succession? I suppose you had an idea that in so doing, you were
proving to the world what an important part you play in the affairs of
"Your majesty," stammered Von Schrotter, utterly at a loss to understand
his crime--"your majesty, through Prince Kaunitz, conveyed to me your
entire satisfaction with my researches into the imperial archives, and
the emperor himself requested me to write the second pamphlet."
"I am in no wise indebted to you for your complaisance," replied the
empress; "for your ink has changed itself into blood, and your stupid
vagaries, hatched in the comfortable quiet of your own room, have driven
my poor soldiers from their homes, out into the pitiless storm of
hardship, danger, and death. What right had you to meddle with the
difficulties of the succession? Did you expect that, in gratitude for
your valuable services to the crown, I would reward you with a title and
an estate in Bavaria?"
"No, your majesty," replied Von Schrotter, blushing, I was but doing my
duty as a jurist and civil officer of the crown."
"And do you suppose you have succeeded in proving any thing with your
rubbish?" asked the empress, scornfully. "Do you imagine that any one
word take the trouble to read your balderdash?"
"In defending the claims of the crown, I was performing an act of
sacrred duty toward my country," replied Von Schrotter, emboldened to
reply, by a just sense of the indignity offered him.
"Oh, yes, I know something of the vanity of authors," said the empress.
"They imagine themselves to be Atlas, each one with the world upon his
shoulders, which must certainly fall, if they are not there to uphold
it. I, however, take the liberty of judging that if they were all to be
blown to atoms, nobody would be the worse for their disappearance. What
has come of your writings? A paper war of such dimensions, that I think
the foul fiend must have plucked all the geese in Avernus, and have
thrown their quills at your heads. What with your imbecile pens, nobody
knows who is right!"
"But, your majesty, "remonstrated Von Schrotter, "discussion is
indispensable to the discovery of truth, and as I am sure that I have
contributed to this discovery, I cannot regret what I have done."
"Ah, indeed!" exclaimed the enraged empress. "You think you have
contributed to the discovery of truth! I will tell you to what you have
contributed, sir: you are the cause that the emperor became so
headstrong on the subject, that sooner than give up Bavaria he has
involved me in war; you are the cause that the whole world has had
something to say on the subject of our claims; whereas, had you held
your tongue, they might have passed for what they are not--just. You
are the cause that my days are spent in sorrow, and my nights are
sleepless; that in the despair of my heart, I have been reduced to write
to a woman whom I despise! Yes, of all this you are the cause, and more
than this--you will be guilty of my death; for I repeat to you that this
war has broken my heart, and will be the last nail in my coffin.
[Footnote: Maria Theresa's own words.] When my people, then, mourn for
my death (and I hope that they will regret me), you may boast of having
compassed it yourself; and from my grave I shall arise to--"
"No more, your majesty, no more! Spare me, in mercy," sobbed he, "if you
would not see me die at your feet!"
"And I presume you would consider it a great misfortune for Austria if
you were no longer able to unsheathe your goose-quill in her defence.
There is no danger of your dying from the wounds inflicted by my tongue;
but I am resolved that you shall carry their marks to the grave with
you. This is all I had to say to you; you are dismissed."
"But, your majesty," replied Von Schrotter, "I have something to say--I
must defend myself."
"You must defend yourself!" cried Maria Theresa, surveying him with a
look of ineffable disdain. "Defend yourself to God--I am not disposed to
listen to your defence."
"But, your majesty--"
"Peace!" thundered the empress. "Who dares speak when I have ordered him
from my presence? Go home, and ponder my words."
So saying, she walked back to her seat. But seeing that Von Schrotter's
lips were parted as if in an attempt to say something, she snatched her
bell, and rang it so loud that in its clang his words were lost.
"Counsellor Von Schrotter is dismissed," said she to the page. "Open the
doors, that he may pass."
Von Schrotter gasped out a convulsive sigh, and scarcely knowing what he
did, turned one last sad look upon his cruel sovereign, and bowing his
head, left the room.
When his tall, majestic form had disappeared from her sight, the empress
"Ah!--that outburst has done me good. And now that I have driven away
humiliation by anger, I shall go and pray to God to bless the sacrifice
I have made to-day for the good of my people."
She rang the bell, assembled her ladies of honor, and with them entered
the private chapel which had lately been added to her own apartments.
She knelt before the first prie-Dieu that presented itself, and her
attendants knelt around her.
Whilst the empress was praying, Von Schrotter returned to the home,
which an hour sooner, he had left with a heart so full of hope and
ecstasy. He had not a word for his old house-keeper, who opened the door
to admit him; and motioning away the servant who would have shown him
into the dining-room, he ascended the staircase with slow, uncertain
steps, his hands clinging to the balustrade, his head so heavy that he
scarce could bear its weight. The servants stood below in sorrowful
amazement. They had never seen their master so agitated in his life
before; they could scarcely believe that this ghastly being was the
dignified and stately man who had left them but an hour before. Suddenly
they started, for surely they heard a loud laugh from the study, but
what a laugh!--so wild, so unearthly, that it sounded like the dreadful
mirth of a madman!--Then all was silent. Presently there came the sound
of a heavy fall.
"That is our master! Some misfortune has befallen liim," cried the
servants, hurrying up the stairs and bursting into the room. On the
floor, surrounded by the books which had been the pride and solace of a
harmless life, lay the counsellor weltering in his blood.
"He has broken a blood-vessel!" cried the house-keeper, with a sob,
while the other servant ran for a physician. The old woman raised her
dear master's head, and his bloody lips parted with a ghastly smile.
"This is the gratitude of princes!" murmured he almost inaudibly. "Such
is the reward of him who loves his country!"
"What is it, my dear, dear master?" faltered the faithful servant, in
vain seeking to penetrate the meaning of his words. "Why do you stare at
me so horribly? What has distressed you?"
He moved as though he would have raised his head. "This is Austria's
gratitude!" cried he in a loud voice; then, forth from his lips gurgled
the purple stream of life, and his words died into hoarse, inaudible
The physician came in, followed by the valet, and together they raised
the sufferer and placed him upon his bed. The doctor then felt his pulse
and his chest, and bent down to catch his breathings. He shook his head
mournfully and called to the weeping servants.
"He is dying," said he. "Some fearful shock that he has received has
induced a hemorrhage, which in a few hours will end his life."
Maria Theresa rose from her prayers, comforted and light of heart. And
as she left the chapel, the man whom she had crushed to the earth by her
unjust anger, drew his last sigh. [Footnote: This whole chapter is
historical. Hormayer "Austrian Plutarch," vol. vi.]
FREDERICK THE GREAT.
King Frederick and his Prussians were still encamped at Wildschutz. His
army was weary of inactivity, and every morning the longing eyes of his
soldiers turned toward the little gray house at the end of the village
where the king and his staff were quartered, vainly hoping to see their
Fritz in the saddle, eager, bold, and daring as he had ever been until
now. The men were destitute of every thing. Not only their food was
exhausted, but their forage also. Bohemia had been plundered until
nothing remained for man or beast. The inhabitants had fled to the
interior, their villages and farms were a waste, and still the King of
Prussia insisted that his army should subsist upon the enemy.
The men were in despair, and the officers began to apprehend a mutiny,
for the former were surly, and no amount of conciliatory words could
appease their hunger or feed their horses.
"We must see the king, we must speak to old Fritz!" cried the
malcontents; and with this cry a crowd of artillerymen made their way to
"We must see the king! Where is old Fritz? Has he ceased to care for his
soldiers?" repeated the crowd.
"No, friends, I am ready to listen," said a soft voice, which,
nevertheless, was heard above the din, and the king, clad in his
well-known uniform, appeared at the window.
The soldiers received him with, a cheer, and at the sight of the
well-beloved countenance, they forgot their need, and shouted for joy.
"What is it?" said Frederick, when the tumult had died away.
One of the men, as spokesman, stepped forward. "We wanted to see our old
Fritz once more; we can scarcely believe that he sees our wants and yet
will do nothing to relieve them." "You see mine," said Frederick,
smiling, "and, as you perceive, I am scarcely better off than
yourselves. Do you think this a fit residence for a king?"
"It is a dog-kennel!" cried the soldiers.
"And is that all you have to say to me?"
"No, sire, it is not. If our king can do nothing for us, at least let
him rescue our horses from starvation. We are men, and our reason helps
us to bear privations; but it is a sin to keep our horses here without
food. We beseech your majesty, give us forage for our horses!" And the
others repeated in chorus; "Forage, forage, give us forage for our
Meanwhile, the king had closed his window and had retired to the other
end of his house. This made the soldiers frantic, and they screamed and
shouted louder than ever
"Give us forage for our horses!"
Suddenly the voice which had so often led them to victory, was heard at
"Peace, you noisy rebels, peace, I say!"
And on the steps before his wretched cabin, stood Frederick, surrounded
by the principal officers of his army.
"Sire," said one of the king's staff, "shall we disperse them?"
"Why-so?" replied Frederick, curtly. "Have my poor soldiers not the
right to appeal to me for help? Speak, my children, speak without fear!"
"Forage, sire, forage--our horses are dying like flies!"
"You see," said the king to his officers, "these poor fellows ask
nothing for themselves. Why is it that they have no forage for their
"Sire," replied the officers, deprecatingly, "as long as there remained
a hay-stack or a storehouse in this part of Bohemia, your majesty's army
was fed by the enemy. But the country is stripped of every thing. The
inhabitants themselves have been obliged to fly from starvation."
"Starvation!" echoed the king. "I will warrant that, while the horses of
the privates are suffering for food, those of the officers are well
"Do not interrupt me, but let all the forage belonging to the chief
officers of the army be brought at once, and placed before these men.
They can wait here until it comes, and then divide it between them. Are
you satisfied, my children?"
"Yes, yes," cried the men, shouting for joy at the prospect of the
abundance about to be vouchsafed to them.
The officers, on the contrary, were deeply humiliated, and beheld the
proceedings with gloomy discontent.
Frederick pretended not to perceive their dissatisfaction. He stood with
his hat drawn down over his brows, leaning for support upon the
crutch-cane which, of late, had been his inseparable companion.
Occasionally, when a soldier came up with his bundle of hay, the king
glanced quickly around, and then looked down again. The artillerymen
gradually ceased their noisy demonstrations, and now, with anxious,
expectant faces, they looked at the king, the officers, and then at the
very small amount of forage which was being placed before them.
Just then an adjutant bowed to the king, and announced that the last
bundle of hay had been set before his majesty.
Frederick raised his eyes, and sadly contemplated the miserable little
heap of forage which betokened with so much significance the destitution
of his brave army.
"Is this all?" said he.
"Yes, sire, all--"
"It is well. Now," continued he to the artillerymen, "divide this
between you. Had my officers been more selfish, your horses would have
fared better. But you see that my generals and adjutants are as noble
and self-sacrificing as yourselves; and unless you manage to forage for
us all, we shall all starve together. I have called for this hay to
prove to you that your officers were not revelling in plenty while you
were suffering for want. Take it, and do not ask for that which I cannot
The artillerymen looked almost ashamed of their clamor, while the faces
of the officers brightened, and their eyes turned with love and
admiration upon the man whose tact had so entirely justified them to
The king pretended to see their delight as little as he had feigned to
see their mortification. He seemed wholly absorbed watching the
soldiers, who were now striving together as to who was to have the
remnants of forage that was far from being enough to allow each man a
bundle. [Footnote: Dohm's Memoirs, vol. i., p. 158.]
Finally Frederick withdrew to his cabin, and, once alone, he fell into
the leathern arm-chair which was the only piece of furniture in the room
besides a bed and a table.
"This will never do," thought he, sorrowfully. "We must either retreat
or advance. This war is a miserable failure--the impotent effort of a
shattered old man whose head is powerless to plan, and his hand to
execute. How often since I entered upon this farcical campaign, have I
repeated those words of Boileau:
`Malheureux, laisse en paix ton cheval vicillissant De peur quo tout a
coup essoufle, sans haleine, Il ne laisse en tombant, son maitre sur
l'arbne.' [Footnote: Frederick's own words.]
"Why did I undertake this war? Why had I not discretion enough to remain
at home, and secure the happiness of my own people?"
The king sighed, and his head sank upon his breast. He sat thus for some
time in deep discouragement; but presently he repeated to himself:
"Why did I undertake this war--why?" echoed he aloud. "For the honor and
safety of Germany. How sorely soever war may press upon my age and
infirmities, it is my duty to check the ambition of a house whose greed
has no bounds, save those which are made for it by the resistance of
another power as resolute as itself. I am, therefore, the champion of
German liberties, and cannot, must not sheathe my sword. But this
inactivity is demoralizing my army, and it must come to an end. We must
retreat or advance--then let us advance!"
Here the king rang his bell. A valet entered, whom he ordered to go at
once to the generals and staff-officers and bid them assemble at
headquarters in fifteen minutes from that time.
"Gentlemen," said the king, "we cross the Elbe to-morrow."
At these words every countenance there grew bright, and every voice was
raised in one long shout:
"Long live the king! Long live Frederick the Great!"
The king tried his best to look unmoved.
"Peace! peace! you silly, old fellows," said he. "What do you suppose
the boys will do out there, if you raise such a clamor indoors? Do you
approve of the move? Speak, General Keller."
"Sire, while out on a reconnaissance yesterday, I discovered a crossing
where we may go safely over, without danger from the enemy's bullets."
"Good. Are you all of one mind?"
A long shout was the answer, and when it had subsided, the king smiled
grimly and nodded his head.
"We are all of one mind, then. To-morrow we engage the enemy. And now to
horse! We must reconnoitre the position which General Keller has chosen,
and part of our troops must cross to-night."
"THE DARKEST HOUR IS BEFORE DAY."
A few moments later the officers were mounted, and the king's horse
stood before his door. Frederick, coming forward, with something of his
youthful elasticity, tried to raise himself in the saddle; but he
stopped, and with an expression of great suffering withdrew his foot
from the stirrup.
The old hero had forgotten that the gout was holding him prisoner. His
face flushed with disappointment, as he called his lackeys to his help.
But once in the saddle, the king struck his spurs with such violence
into his horse's flanks, that the animal leaped into the air, and
bounded off in a swift gallop.
Whether Frederick had intended to prove to his officers that he was as
bold a horseman as ever, or whether be had yielded to a momentary
impulse of anger, he suffered keenly for his bravado; for at every bound
of the horse, his agony increased. Finally he could endure no more. He
came to a complete stand, and requested his suite to slacken their pace.
They rode on in perfect silence, the officers casting stolen glances at
the king, whose lips quivered, while his face grew every moment paler
with suppressed anguish. But he bore it all without a sigh, until they
had reached the point for which they started. Having accurately surveyed
it, Frederick turned his horse's head, and rode back to his quarters.
This time he had not only to be lifted from his horse, but to be carried
to his room. Once there, he signed to his attendants to leave him. He
felt the imperious necessity of being alone with his afflicted mind and
body. He leaned his head back, and murmured
"Malheureux, laisse en paux ton cheval vieillissant!"
Then, closing his eyes, he quoted the sacred Scriptures for the first
time in his life without irreverent intention.
"The spirit is willing," sighed the wretched unbeliever, "but the flesh
He remained pondering over those truthful words for several moments;
then casting his eyes over the various objects that lay upon his table,
they lit upon the little leather-covered box, which contained his flute.
For some time past his perplexities had been so great that he had held
no intercourse with this object of his life-long affection; but now he
felt as if its tones would be consolatory. And with trembling, eager
hands he unfastened the case, and raised the instrument to his lips. But
alas! the flute, like its adorer, was superannuated. Wearily came its
feeble notes upon the air, each one hoarse as the wind whistling through
a ruined abbey. [Footnote: It was during the war of the Bavarian
Succession that Frederick found himself compelled to give up the flute.
His embouchure had been destroyed by the loss of his front teeth, and
his hands trembled so that he could scarcely hold the instrument.]
Frederick had played but a few bars of his adagio when his hands fell
slowly, and the flute rolled upon the table. He contemplated it for
awhile, then his eyes filled with tears, which fell rapidly down his
cheeks. A mournful smile flickered over his countenance.
"Well," said he, in a low voice, "I suppose there is nothing disgraceful
in the tears of an old man over the last, faithful friend of his youth."
With these words he replaced the flute in the case, and locked it,
"Farewell, forever, my life-long solace!"
Just then, a thousand voices shouted:
"Long live the king! Long live old Fritz!"
"They are rejoicing over the approaching battle," thought Frederick.
"But their hopes, like mine, are destined to be crushed. Instead of
crossing the Elbe, we must retire to Silesia. Old age has vanquished
me--and from such a defeat no man can ever rally.
"Well, well! We must take the world as it comes, and if I can neither
light nor play on the flute, I can still talk and write. My eulogy on
Voltaire is not yet completed--I must finish it to-day, that it may be
read before the Academy at Berlin, on the anniversary of his death."
[Footnote: Voltaire died in May, 1779 and Frederick, while in camp in
Bohemia, wrote a poem on his death.]
Selecting from among his papers the manuscript he wanted, Frederick took
up his pen and began to write.
Gradually the songs and shouts of the soldiers ceased, and the king was
consoling himself for the loss of music by flinging himself into the
arms of poetry, when a knock was heard at his door, and his valet
announced the secretary of Count Gallitzin.
Frederick's heart throbbed with joy, and his great eagle eyes were so
strangely lit up, that the valet could not imagine what had caused such
an illumination of his royal master's features.
"Thugut," cried the king; "is Thugut here again? Admit him immediately."
By the time that Baron Thugut had appeared at the door, Frederick had so
forced down his joy, that he received the envoy of the empress-queen
with creditable indifference.
"Well, baron," said he, with a careless nod, "you come again. When the
foul fiend comes for the third time, he must either bag a man's soul, or
give it up forever."
"I feel flattered, sire, by the comparison your majesty makes of me to
so great and powerful a potentate," replied the baron, laughing.
"You believe in the devil, then, although you deny the Lord."
"Certainly, sire, for I have never yet seen a trace of the one, and the
other I meet everywhere."
"For an ambassador of Maria Theresa, your opinions are tolerably
heterodox," said Frederick. "But tell me what brings you hither? You
must not expect me to continue our interrupted negotiations. If the
empress-queen sends you to claim ever so small a portion of Bavaria, I
tell you, beforehand, that it is useless to say a word. Austria must
renounce her pretensions or continue the war."
"Sire, I come with new propositions. Here are my credentials, if your
majesty is at leisure to examine them, and here is a letter from the
hand of my revered sovereign."
"And what is that?" asked Frederick, pointing to a roll of papers, tied
up with twine.
"Those are my documents, together with the papers relating to the past
"I think that I have already refused to go over these negotiations,"
said Frederick, sharply; and without further ceremony, he broke the seal
of the empress's letter. While the king read, Thugut busied himself
untying his roll and spreading his papers out upon the table.
"This is nothing but a letter of credentials," observed the king,
putting it down. "The empress refers me to you for verbal explanations.
I am ready to hear them."
"Sire, the empress-queen, animated by a heartfelt desire to restore
peace to Germany, has called upon France and Russia to settle the
difficulties which, to her sincere regret, have arisen between herself
and your majesty. These two powers, having responded favorably to my
"Say, rather," interrupted Frederick, "that these two powers having
given to her majesty of Austria the somewhat peremptory advice to
relinquish her pretensions to Bavaria--"
Baron Thugut bowed, and resumed: "That the two powers may have the
opportunity of conducting their negotiations without any new
complications from military movements, her majesty, the empress,
proposes an armistice, to begin from to-day."
Up to this moment the king's eyes had been fixed upon Thugut; but as he
heard these few last words, he dropped them suddenly. He was so
overjoyed, that he was afraid to betray his raptures to the diplomatist.
He recovered himself in time. "Did you come through my camp?" said he to
"You heard the, shouts and songs of my brave Prussians. Were you told
that I intend to cross the Elbe, and offer battle to your emperor
"Yes, sire, I was told so."
"And at the very moment when I am prepared to fight, you come to me with
proposals of armistice! You perceive that I could only be brought to
consent to a truce through my consideration for the empress, provided
she offered sound guaranties for the conclusion of an honorable peace.
Let us hear your proposals."
The interview between the king and the secret envoy of the empress was
long and animated. When the latter was about to take leave, Frederick
nodded condescendingly, saying:
"Well! I consent to make this sacrifice to the wishes of the empress.
You can inform her, that instead of giving battle to the emperor, as I
had hoped to do on the morrow, I shall retreat to Silesia, and retire
into winter quarters."
"And your majesty promises equitable conditions, and will consult with
the Russian ambassador?"
"I promise, and the empress-queen may rely upon me. Farewell." The envoy
turned to depart, but before he reached the door the king called him
"Baron," said he with a significant smile, "you have forgotten
something." Here he pointed to the twine which had fallen on the floor,
and lay near the baron's chair. "Take what belongs to you; I never
enrich myself with the possessions of others."
When the door closed, the king raised his eyes to heaven. "Is it chance,
or Providence, that has succored me to-day?" thought he. "Which of the
two has vouchsafed me such honorable deliverance in my extremity?"
THE EMPEROR AND HIS MOTHER.
It was a day of double rejoicing in Vienna, at once the celebration of
peace, and of Maria Theresa's sixty-second birthday. For three months
the seven envoys of Austria, Prussia, Russia, France, Bavaria,
Zweibrucken, and Saxony, had been disentangling the threads of the
Bavarian succession. For three months Joseph had hoped and prayed that
the debates of the peace congress might come to naught, and its
deliberations engender a veritable war. But he was destined to new
disappointment. The love of peace had prevailed. Austria had renounced
all her inheritance in Bavaria, save the Innviertel, and had declared
her treaty with Charles Theodore to be null and void.
The people of Vienna were overjoyed. They, like their empress, preferred
peace to increase of domain; and they hastened to offer her their
sincerest congratulations. All the European ambassadors were in full
uniform, and Maria Theresa was seated on a throne, in all her imperial
She was radiant with smiles, and happiness flashed from her still bright
eyes; but on this day of rejoicing there was one void that pained the
empress--it was the absence of her eldest son. Since his return to
Vienna, three months before, there had never yet been a word of
explanation between Joseph and his mother. He had studiously avoided
being alone with her, had never made his appearance in council, and when
documents had been presented to him for signature, he had no sooner
perceived the sign-manual of the empress, than he had added his own
without examination or comment.
It was this cold submission which tortured the heart of Maria Theresa.
She would have preferred recrimination to such compliance as this; it
seemed so like aversion, so like despair!
When the ceremonies of the day were over, the empress sent a messenger
to request the presence of her son, in her own private apartments. The
messenger returned, and a few moments after, was followed by the
He entered the room, and his mother came eagerly forward, her two hands
outstretched to greet him. "Thank you, my dearest child," said she,
affectionately, "for coming so promptly at my request. My heart has been
yearning for my son, and I have longed all day to see my co-regent and
emperor at my side."
She still held out her hands, but Joseph, affecting not to see them,
bowed with grave ceremony. "I am neither emperor nor co-regent," replied
he; "I am but the son and subject of the empress, and as such I have
already congratulated your majesty with the rest."
"Were your congratulations for my birthday, or for the restoration of
peace, my son?"
"The birthday of my empress is, above all others, a day of gratulation
for you," replied Joseph, evasively.
"Then peace is not agreeable to you?"
"Pardon me, I have every reason to be satisfied. Have we not exchanged
compliments with all the powers of Europe, and have not the people of
Vienna sung ninety-nine thousand TE DEUMS in honor of the peace of
Teschen?" [Footnote: Joseph's own words.]
"I see that you do not approve of it, Joseph," said the empress, who was
anxious to come to an understanding on the subject.
"I was under the impression that I had signed all your majesty's acts
without giving any trouble whatever," was the cold reply.
"But you did it unwillingly, I fear, and thought of your mother as a
weak and timid old woman. Is it not so, my son?"
"When I signed the treaty I thought of my ancestor, Charles V. After a
disastrous campaign in Africa, he was obliged to return with his fleet
to Spain. He sailed, it is true, but he was the last man to go on board.
So with me--I signed the articles of peace, but was the last one who
signed." [Footnote: Ibid.]
"Have you nothing more to say on the subject? Are you not glad that
there is to be no bloodshed?"
"A son and subject has no right to sit in judgment upon the actions of
his mother and empress."
"But you are more than a subject, you are an emperor."
"No, your majesty; I am like the Venetian generals. In war, they
commanded the armies, and received their salaries from the republic.
When their campaigns were over, their pensions were paid and they sank
back into obscurity."
"Oh, my son, these are hard and bitter words," exclaimed the empress,
pressing her hands upon her heart. "I see plainly that you are
displeased because I have exchanged a doubtful war for an honorable
"I am not so presuming as to be displeased with your majesty's acts, and
if you have obtained an honorable peace, I wish you joy of it."
Maria Theresa sighed heavily. "I perceive," said she, disconsolately,
"that you are resolved not to let me see into your heart."
"Oh, your majesty," cried Joseph, with a bitter smile, "I have no heart.
Where my heart once was, there stands an open grave, and, one by one, my
hopes have all been buried there."
"I think it strange that the future Emperor of Austria should speak of
"I said nothing of an emperor, your majesty, I spoke of poor Joseph of
Hapsburg and of his personal wishes. As regards the future emperor, he
of course has many hopes for Austria. First among them is the wish that
the epoch of his reign may be very far off! Second, is his desire to
serve his country. As we are now to enjoy the blessings of peace, and I
am on the list of your majesty's pensioned officers, I should like, if
it do not conflict with your views, to receive an appointment as
minister to some foreign power."
"Oh," exclaimed Maria Theresa, sorrowfully, "would you leave me so soon
"Yes, your majesty, I desire a long leave of absence."
"Whither would you then journey, my dear child?"
"I desire to visit the Empress Catharine."
"The Empress Catharine!" echoed Maria Theresa, starting and coloring
violently. "You would visit that woman?"
"Yes, your majesty. I would visit that woman as Baron Thugut did the
King of Prussia; with this exception, that I do not go secretly--I first
consult your majesty."
Maria Theresa would not notice this thrust of her son. She contented
herself with replying: "What object can you have in going on a mission
"I propose to win the friendship of the empress."
"The friendship of that degraded woman! I do not covet it."
"And yet your majesty was the first to request her mediation in our
affairs with Germany. As you have raised the foul fiend, and he has come
at your call, you must abide the consequences, and accept him as a
friend. Since Russia is to have a voice in German politics, it is better
that she speak for us, than sustain our enemy, Prussia."
"But she has long been the ally of Prussia," objected the empress.
"So much the more incumbent is it upon us to disturb the alliance. To do
this, is the purpose of my journey to Russia. I repeat my request for
your majesty's consent."
For some moments Maria Theresa contemplated her son with inexpressible
tenderness. At length she said with a sigh, "You really desire, then, to
go to Russia?"
"Such is my wish, your majesty."
"Well, my child, since you desire it, I consent; but I do it
unwillingly. I wish to prove to my son how gladly I gratify him, when I
can do so without conflicting with my duties as a sovereign."
The emperor bowed, but spoke not a word. Maria Theresa sighed again, and
an expression of deep pain crossed her face.
"When do you expect to start?" said she, sadly.
"As soon as possible; for if I am not mistaken, the time is now
propitious for stepping in between Prussia and her beloved ally."
"Then I am to lose my dear son at once?" asked the mother, with tearful
eyes. "I fear he leaves me without a pang; and will seldom bestow a
thought upon the mother whose anxious heart follows his every movement
"I shall bestow my thoughts upon my sovereign, and remember that I am
pledged to obtain for her a powerful ally. But I have much to do before
I start. Above all things I must see Prince Kaunitz. I beg therefore of
your majesty the permission to retire."
"As the emperor pleases," said Maria Theresa, with quivering lip.
Joseph bowed, and without a word or look at his mother's sorrowing
countenance, turned toward the door. Up to this moment the empress had
controlled her distress, but she could master her grief no longer. She
looked at the emperor with dimmed eyes and throbbing heart; and in the
extremity of her maternal anguish, she cried out,
"Oh, my son, my precious boy!"
The emperor, who was opening the door, turned around. He saw his mother,
her tears falling like rain, standing close by with outstretched arms.
But he did not respond to the appeal. With another ceremonious bow, he
said, "I take leave of your majesty." and closed the door behind him.
Maria Theresa uttered aloud cry and sank to the floor. "Oh," sobbed she,
"I am a poor, desolate mother. My child loves me no longer!"
Prince Potemkin was just out of bed. In front of him, two pages, richly
dressed, bowed down to the floor as they opened the door for him to pass
into his cabinet. Behind him, two more pages held up the train of his
velvet dressing-gown, which, all bedecked with jewels, came trailing
behind his tall, graceful figure. Behind the pages were four valets with
breakfast and Turkish pipes.
And in this wise Prince Potemkin entered his cabinet. He threw himself
upon an ottoman covered with India cashmere shawls, and received from a
kneeling page a cup of chocolate, which was handed to his highness upon
a gold waiter set with pearls. Then, as if the cup had been too
troublesome to hold, he replaced it on the waiter, and ordered the page
to pour the chocolate down.
The page, apparently, was accustomed to the order, for he rose briskly
from his knees, and approaching the cup to Potemkin's lips, allowed the
chocolate to trickle slowly down his princely throat. Meanwhile the
three pages, four valets, and six officers, who had been awaiting him in
his cabinet, stood around in stiff, military attitudes, each one
uncomfortably conscious that he was momentarily exposed to the possible
displeasure of the mighty favorite of the mighty Czarina.
Potemkin, meanwhile, vouchsafed not a look at any one of them. After he
had sipped his chocolate, and the page had dried his mouth with an
embroidered napkin, he opened his lips. The valet whose duty it was to
present it, stepped forward with the Turkish pipe, and depositing its
magnificent golden bowl upon the Persian carpet by the ottoman, placed
the amber mouth-piece between the lips of his master.
Again a dead silence; and again those stiff forms stood reverentially
around, while Potemkin, with an air of ennui and satiety, watched the
blue wreaths that rose from his pipe to the ceiling.
"What o'clock is it?" asked he moodily.
"Mid-day, your highness," was the prompt reply.
"How many people in the anteroom?"
"A multitude of nobles, generals, and lesser petitioners, all awaiting
your highness's appearance."
"How long have they been there?"
"Three hours, your highness."
His highness went on smoking, impelled probably by the reflection that
three hours was too short a time for the court of Russia to wait for the
ineffable blessing of his presence.
After a while he became weary of the pipe, and raised his head. Three
valets rushed forward, each with an embroidered suit, to inquire whether
his highness would wear the uniform of a field-marshal, that of a
lord-chamberlain, or the magnificent costume of a Russian prince.
Potemkin waved them off, and rose from the ottoman. His long brown hair,
which flowed like the mane of a lion around his handsome face, bore here
and there the traces of the down pillow upon which he had slept; his
open dressing-gown exposed to view his slovenly undergarments; and his
pearl-embroidered slippers were worn over a pair of soiled stockings
which, hanging loosely around his legs, revealed his powerful and
In this neglige, Potemkin approached the door of his anteroom. As soon
as he had been announced, a hundred weary faces grew bright with
expectation; and princes, dukes, and nobles bowed before the haughty man
who was even mightier than the empress; for HE bent before no mortal,
while she was the slave of one will--of Potemkin's.
Silent and disdainful, Potemkin walked through the lines of obsequious
courtiers that fell back as he passed, here and there condescending to
greet some nobleman of wealth or influence. As for the others who raised
their imploring eyes to his, he affected not to know of their
insignificant presence, and returned to his cabinet without having
vouchsafed a word to anybody.
"Is the jeweller there?" asked he of the officer at the door, and as the
latter bowed his head, Potemkin added, "Admit him, and after him the
minister of police."
With these words he passed into his cabinet, and his valets began to
dress him. While his long mane was being combed into order, Potemkin
amused himself playing like a juggler with three little golden balls,
while the pale and trembling jeweller stood wondering what new robbery
awaited him now.
"Ah, Artankopf, you are there?" said the prince, when his toilet had
been completed. "I have an order for you."
The jeweller made a salam, and muttered some unintelligible words of
which Potemkin took no notice.
"I saw a magnificent service of gold yesterday in your showcase."
"It is an order, your highness," said Artankopf, quickly.
"Then I cannot buy it?"
"Impossible, your highness."
"Then I order one exactly like it, above all in weight. The statuettes
which ornament that service are exquisitely moulded. How much gold is
there in it?"
"Sixty thousand rubles, your highness."
Potemkin's eyes sparkled. "A considerable sum," said he, stroking his
mane. "I order two services of the same value. Do you hear? They must be
ready on this day week."
"And the payment?" Artankopf ventured to inquire.
"I shall pay you in advance," replied Potemkin, with a laugh. "I appoint
you first court-jeweller to the empress."
The jeweller did not appear to appreciate the mode of payment; he seemed
"Oh, your highness," said he, trembling, "I implore you not to make such
fearful jests. I am the father of a large family, and if you exact of me
to furnish you a service worth a fortune, the outlay for the gold alone
will ruin me."
"You will be irretrievably ruined if you do not furnish it," laughed
Potemkin, while he went on throwing his balls and catching them "If
those two services are not here on the day you take a journey to
Siberia, friend Artankopf."
"I will be punctual, your highness," sighed the jeweller. "But the
payment--I must buy the gold."
"The payment! What, the devil--you are not paid by the appointment I
give you! Go: and if you venture to murmur, think of Siberia, and that
will cure your grief."
With a wave of his hand, Potemkin dismissed the unhappy jeweller, who
left that princely den of extortion a broken-hearted, ruined man.
The robber, meanwhile, was counting his gains and donning his
field-marshal's uniform. "One hundred and twenty thousand rubles' worth
of gold!" said he to himself. "I'll have the things melted into coin--it
is more portable than plate."
The door opened, and Narischkin, the minister of police, entered.
"Out, the whole gang of you!" cried Potemkin; and there was a
simultaneous exodus of officers, pages, and valets. When the heavy,
gold-bordered silken portiere had fallen, the tyrant spoke.
"Now let us hear your report," said he, seating himself before his
toilet-mirror, where first he cleaned his dazzling white teeth, and then
pared his nails.
The minister of police, in an attitude of profound respect, began to go
over the occurrences of the past two days in St. Petersburg.
Potemkin listened with an occasional yawn, and finally interrupted
him. "You are an old fool. What do I care for your burglars and
bankrupts! You have not so much as a murder to relate to me. Can you not
guess that there are other things of which I wish to hear?"
"Doubtless your highness wishes me to report the doings of the Emperor
"You are not quite such a dunce, then, as you seem to be. Well, what has
the emperor been about these two days past?"
"He leads the same life as he did in Moscow," said Narischkin. "He goes
about as Count Falkenstein."
"He comes as his own ambassador," cried Potemkin, laughing, "and he
could not have chosen a worse one than Count Falkenstein. [Footnote:
Potemkin's own words.] What a wretched country Austria must be when its
emperor travels about like an ordinary Russian gentleman!"
"He arrived in St. Petersburg with one servant carrying his portmanteau,
and engaged two rooms at a hotel."
"Oh, yes. I have heard of his passion for living at hotels. It all
proceeds from avarice. Were he the guest of the empress, he would be
obliged to make some imperial presents here and there. When our great
czarina invited him to Sarskoe-Selo, he accepted, on condition that he
should be allowed to lodge at an inn. Now there happens to be no inn at
Sarskoe-Selo; so the imperial gardener has hung out a sign, and the
little Count of Falkenstein is to take up his lodging with him. He never
will be the wiser, and will fancy himself at an inn. So that in trifles,
as in matters of state, the czarina shall befool Austria, and lead him
by the nose. Tell me something more of his eccentricities. Have you
dazzled him with a sight of our wealth?"
"He is not to be dazzled, your highness. Even the homage he has received
seems to give him no pleasure."
"Ah! Has he, then, been the object of so much consideration?"
"Her majesty ordered it, and she has even devised some delicate
compliments wherewith to surprise him."
"Ah!--she seems to be inclined toward this little emperor," muttered
Potemkin. "She indulges in fanciful projects of aggrandizement with him,
and forgets--Well--what were the surprises which the czarina prepared
for his countship?"
"Day before yesterday, he visited the Academy of Sciences. An atlas was
presented to him; and when he opened it, he found a map of his own
journey from Vienna to St. Petersburg, with engravings illustrating the
various details of the journey." [Footnote: Theodore Mundl, "Conflicts
for the Black Sea," p. 141]
"Pretty good," sneered Potemkin, "but unfortunately not original, for
the little count received a similar compliment in Paris. Go on."
"Then the emperor visited the Academy of Arts, and there he found a
portfolio of engravings, among which was an excellent portrait of
himself with this inscription: 'Multorum providus urbes et mores
"Who wrote the inscription?" asked Potemkin, hastily.
"Her majesty's self," replied Narischkin, with a deep inclination at the
name. "But the emperor greets every thing with a quiet smile. When he
visited the mint and saw the enormous piles of bullion there, he merely
said: 'Have you always as much silver in the mint as there is to-day?'"
Potemkin laughed aloud. "That was a sly question, and shows that little
Falkenstein has been peeping behind the scenes and has discovered that
we were prepared for his coming."
"Yes, your highness. It would appear that Count Falkenstein does not
quite believe in our enormous wealth; for after seeing the mint, he put
on that mocking smile of his, and asked whether the Imperial Bank was in
a condition to redeem its issue."
"What was the answer?"
"'Yes,' of course, your highness."
"It was a masterpiece of effrontery then, and I shall take the
opportunity of testing its truth. Go to the bank, Narischkin, and say
that I need one hundred thousand rubles for an entertainment I propose
to give to the czarina. I must have it in coin. Quick--begone."
"I fly, your highness, but first be so kind as to give me the imperial
order. You well know that no coin can leave the bank without the
signature of the empress."
"I should like to see whether they will dare to return MY signature,"
cried Potemkin, fiercely.
He wrote the order, and handing it to Narischkin, said: "Take this to
the bank directors; and if they ask for the signature of the empress,
tell them she will send it to-morrow, but I must have the money to-day."
Narischkin bowed lower than he had ever been seen to do toward the son
of the empress himself, and left the room on reverential tiptoes.
THE PRUSSIAN AMBASSADOR.
When Potemkin felt himself quite alone, he leaned back in his arm-chair
with an ugly frown.
"Something is going on to my disadvantage here," muttered he. "I saw it
yesterday in Panin's exulting countenance.. How I hate that man! Almost
as much as I do Orloff! It is a blessing for me that both are not here
to plot together. Singly, I do not fear them; but together--Orloff is
the loaded cannon, and Panin the lighted match, and if I am not wary--"
Here, as though he had felt the shock of the ball, Potemkin sprang from
his seat, and swung his hands above his head. But presently he sank back
into his chair, and continued his meditations. "I must spike Orloff
before he destroys me. But to spike a cannon, one must be able to reach
it; and Orloff is far away on his estates, like a spider in her wicked
web. Oh, if I could but reach it, I would soon tear it to pieces! But
where are its threads? How shall I find them?--Panin, too, is getting
intimate with the grand duke, and so, is currying favor with the
empress. Yesterday when I entered the parlor without saluting him, Paul
called after me with an oath, and turned to his mother with a complaint
of my insolence. And the empress did not utter one word of reproof,
although she saw me near enough to hear. That is significant--it means
that Catharine fears me no longer. But, by the eternal God! she shall
learn that she has a master, and that her master is Potemkin!
"How dare she take Panin into her confidence? He it is who inclines her
to the King of Prussia. This fancy for Prussia is the only thing she has
in common with the grand duke. Love of Frederick is the bridge which
Panin has built to unite them. I must try to lead her into another road
of policy, and so remove Orloff and Panin. Orloff hates Austria, and
if--pshaw! Why is that Joseph so niggardly that one cannot feel the
slightest interest in him? If after refusing all other invitations he
had paid me the compliment of accepting mine--but, no!--this haughty
Austrian treats me with as little consideration as be does the rest of
the world; and forces me, in spite of myself, to the side of Frederick.
But there I find Orloff and Panin, and we cannot work together. They
must be disgraced, and Catharine made to follow me. How shall I
commence? What shall I do?"
A knock at the door put an end to his communings.
"His excellency the Count von Gortz, ambassador of his majesty the King
of Prussia," said the officer, who announced the visitors of Potemkin.
"Show his excellency into the little parlor," said the latter,
carelessly, "and tell him that I will receive him there."
"Ah!--Count von Gortz," thought Potemkin. "That signifies that my
enemies have not yet triumphed, and that the King of Prussia thinks me
powerful enough to conciliate. Well--I must have time for reflection."
And without the slightest regard to the station of his visitor, Potemkin
sat for half an hour, revolving in his mind what sort of reception he
should give to Frederick's overtures. In spite of the slight, Count von
Gortz came forward with a gracious smile, as Potemkin, slightly nodding,
passed on to a seat, and waved his hand for the count to take another.
"I am commissioned by my sovereign, the King of Prussia, to request an
interview of your highness," began Von Gortz.
Potemkin nodded, but said nothing.
"His majesty has intrusted me with a most flattering commission,"
continued the ambassador.
"Let us hear it," replied Potemkin, with indifference.
Count von Gortz bowed, rose, and drew from his bosom a rich velvet etui
which he handed to the prince.
"His majesty, my august sovereign, in acknowledgment of your highness's
great and glorious deeds, wishes to convey to you a token of his
admiration and friendship," said Count von Gortz, solemnly. "He has
bestowed upon your highness the order of the Black Eagle, and I have the
Honor to present it to you with the insignia."
Potemkin took the etui and without opening it laid it on the table
beside him. "Ah," said he, with a shrug, "his majesty sends me the Black
Eagle. I am much obliged to him, but really I have so many orders that I
have nowhere left to wear them, and how to dispose of this new one I
scarcely know. See for yourself," continued he smiling, and pointing to
his breast, which indeed was covered with crosses, "do I not look like a
vender of orders, carrying about his samples?" [Footnote: All Potemkin's
own words. Dohm's Memoirs. vol. i., p 4l3]
"If I may be allowed to use your excellency's words, you carry about
samples, not only of your treasures, but of your heroism and
statesmanship. It would be a pity if among them, you should not wear a
decoration of my august sovereign."
"Very well, then, to oblige the King of Prussia, I will wear the cross,
and, I beg you return him my thanks. Have you anything more to say,
Count von Gortz cast a searching glance around the apartment, especially
upon the heavy velvet window-curtains.
"Get up and look for yourself, if you suspect the presence of any body,
"said the prince.
"Your highness's word is sufficient. Allow me then to speak openly and
"In the name of your sovereign?"
"Yes, your highness. You know that the treaty, which for eight years has
allied Russia and Prussia is about to expire."
"Is it?" said Potemkin, carelessly. "I was not aware of it, for I take
no interest in minor politics."
"Your highness has in view the great whole only of the field of
diplomacy," replied the complaisant minister. "But for Prussia this
alliance is a most important one, and my sovereign has nothing more at
heart than the renewal of his alliance with Russia. He knows how much
his interests here are threatened by the visit of the Emperor Joseph; and
he desired me to ask of your highness whether it would be advisable for
him to send Prince Henry to counteract it."
Potemkin replied to this question by a loud laugh. "What a set of timid
people you are!" said he. "What formalities about nothing! When the
emperor was about to visit us, the czarina must know whether it was
agreeable to the King of Prussia: now the king wishes to know from me
whether the visit of Prince Henry is expedient."
"Yes. His majesty wishes advice from your highness alone, although there
are others who would gladly be consulted by him."
"Others? you mean Panin--have you, then, asked counsel of no one,
"Of no one. My sovereign wishes to consult with no one excepting your
For the first time Potemkin betrayed his satisfaction by a triumphant
smile. "If your king comes to me exclusively--mark me well,
EXCLUSIVELY--for advice, I am willing to serve him."
"Your highness may see that my sovereign addresses himself to you
alone," replied the minister, handing him a letter in Frederick's own
Potemkin, without any appearance of surprise, took it and broke the
seal. The king began by saying that he had every reason to believe that
the object of Joseph's visit to Russia was to alienate Russia from her
old ally. Then he went jnto ecstasies over the genius and statesmanship
of Potemkin, and besought him to uphold the interests of Prussia.
Furthermore he promised his interest and influence to the prince, not
only for the present, but for the future, when it was probable that he
(Frederick) could serve Potemkin substantially. [Footnote: This letter
is historical, and is to be found in Dohm's Memoirs, vol. i., p. 412.]
A long pause ensued after the reading of this letter. Potemkin threw
himself back, and in an attitude of thoughtfulness raised his eyes to
the rich pictured ceiling above him.
"I do not entirely understand the king," said he, after some time. "What
does he mean by saying that he will try to make that possible which
"His majesty has learned that your highness is desirous of being created
Duke of Courland. He will use all his interest with Stanislaus to this
effect, and indemnify the Duke de Biron, who would lose Courland, by
augmenting his possessions in Silesia. The king also means that he is
ready to find a bride for the future Duke of Courland among the
princesses of Germany."
"Really," said Potemkin, laughing, "the mysterious phrase is
significant. But the king lays too much stress upon that little duchy of
Courland; if I wanted it, I could make it mine without troubling his
majesty in the least. As to the bride, I doubt whether it would be
agreeable to the czarina for me to marry, and this matter I leave to
herself. What does the king mean by a proffer of friendship for the
Count Gortz leaned forward and spoke scarcely above his breath. "His
majesty means to promise his influence with the grand duke, so that in
the event of his mother's death, your highness would be secure of your
person and property." [Footnote: Raumer's Contributions, etc., vol. v.,
This time the prince was unable to suppress his real feelings; he
started, and a deep flush overspread his face.
"How?" said he, in a whisper, "has the king the power to read my
He did not conclude his sentence, but sprang from his seat and paced the
room in hurried excitement. Count von Gortz also had risen and
contemplated him in anxious silence.
"Did the courier from Berlin bring any letters to the czarina?" asked
Potemkin, as he ceased walking and stood before Von Gortz. "Yes, your
highness, and I shall deliver them, as soon as I receive the assurance
of your influence with the empress."
"Very well, you have it. I will go to her at once. Meanwhile go to Count
Panin, to whose department this affair belongs, and induce him to lay
before the czarina a proposition for the renewal of the Prussian
alliance. Then ask an audience of the empress and present your
credentials. You see that I am in earnest, for I work in conjunction
with my enemy; but before I make one step, you must write out the king's
last promise to me, adding that you are empowered to do so by his
majesty of Prussia and having signed the promise, you must deliver me
"May I inquire the object of these papers?"
Potemkin approached the count, and whispered in his ear. "It is a matter
of life and death. If the grand duke should come to the throne, from the
unbounded regard which he has for the King of Prussia, I know that this
paper will protect me from his vengeance."
"Your highness shall have it."
"At once? For you understand that I insist have some guaranty before I
act. Your king's words are not explicit."
"I shall draw up the paper, and send it to your highness before I ask an
audience of the czarina."
"Then the King of Prussia may reckon upon me, and I shall serve him
to-day, as I hope that in future he will serve me. Go now and return
with the paper as soon as it is ready."
"I believe that Prussia means fairly," said Potemkin, when he found
himself once more alone. "But that only means that Prussia needs me, and
that," cried he, exultingly, "means that I am mightier than Panin,
mightier than the grand duke--but am I mightier than Orloff?--Oh, this
Orloff is the spectre that forever threatens my repose! He or I must
fall, for Russia is too small to hold us both. But which one? Not I--by
the Eternal--not I!"
Just then there was a knock at the door, and Potemkin, who was standing
with his fist clinched and his teeth set, fell back into his seat.
"How dare you disturb me?" cried he, savagely.
"Pardon me, your highness, but this is your day for receiving the
foreign ambassadors, and his excellency of Austria craves an audience?"
"Cobenzl? Is he alone?"
"Yes, your highness."
"In ten minutes, admit him here."
THE AUSTRIAN AMBASSADOR.
Ten minutes later the door was opened, and Count Cobenzl, on the point
of his toes, tipped into the room. Potemkin, on the sofa, was looking
the picture of indifference; his eyes half-shut and his tall form
stretched out at full length, he seemed just to have awakened from
sleep. But during those ten minutes he had been doing any thing but
sleeping. He had been decorating himself with the cross of the Black
Eagle, and had allowed the broad ribbon to which it was attached to
trail upon the carpet.
"It is well, Count Cobenzl," said Potemkin, greeting the minister, "that
you did not come five minutes later, for you would not have met me at
"Pardon me, I should then have had but five minutes to wait in your
anteroom," replied Cobenzl. "I detest anterooms, and wish that I had
come ten minutes later, that I might have been introduced to your
presence at once."
"You would not have seen me at all, I tell you; for I am about to have
an audience of the empress."
"Ah, indeed!" cried Cobenzl. "That accounts for all these brilliant
"You certainly did not suppose that I was wearing them in Honor of YOUR
visit, did you?" asked Potemkin, with quiet insolence.
"Oh, no, I thought it a mere mise en scene."
"Ah, Count Cobenzl is still mad on the subject of the drama," replied
Potemkin, laughing. "What new comedy are you about to get up at the
Austrian embassy, eh?"
"A very pretty thing, just from Paris, your highness. It is called, 'The
Disgraced Favorite, or the Whims of Fortune.'"
Potemkin's eyes flashed fire, but he controlled himself, and said,
"Where is the scene of the drama laid?"
"I do not precisely remember. In Tartary, or Mongolia, or--"
"Or in the moon," interrupted Potemkin, laughing. "But come be seated,
and let us be serious." So saying, Potemkin threw himself back again
upon the divan, and pointed to an arm-chair, which Cobenzl quietly
accepted. The chair happened to be close to the spot where the ribbon of
the Black Eagle was lying. Cobenzl seeing that it was under his feet,
picked it up, and presented it to the prince.
"You know not what you do, count. You raise your enemy when you raise
that ribbon. It has just been sent to me by the King of Prussia. I am
quite in despair at being obliged to wear it, for it takes up so much
room. The star of the Black Eagle is very large. Do you not think so?"
"Yes, your highness, and I congratulate you upon its possession, for the
close King of Prussia does not often give away his diamonds."
"It would appear that diamonds do not abound in Prussia," replied
Potemkin, with a gesture of slight toward the cross on his breast.
"These brilliants are rather yellow."
"Do you prefer Austrian diamonds?" asked Cobenzl, significantly.
"I have never seen any," answered Potemkin, with a yawn.
"Then I am happy to be the first to introduce them to your notice," said
Cobenzl rising, and taking from his pocket a turkey-morocco case. "My
august emperor has commissioned me to present to you this little
"Another order!" said Potemkin, with affected horror.
"No, your highness. Orders are toys for grown-up children. But you are a
great man, and a toy for you must have some scientific significance. My
emperor has heard that your highness has a costly collection of minerals
and precious stones. His majesty, therefore, with his own hand has
selected the specimens which I have the honor to present in his name."
Potemkin, whose indifference had all vanished as he listened, opened the
casket with some eagerness; and an exclamation of rapture fell from his
lips, as he surveyed its costly contents. There were Indian diamonds of
unusual size and brilliancy; Turkish rubies of fiery crimson;
magnificent sapphires; turquoises of purest tint; large specimens of
lapis-lazuli, all veined with gold; and translucent chrysoprase of
bright metallic green.
"This is indeed a princely gift," cried the covetous Potemkin, perfectly
dazzled by the magnificence, and intoxicated by the possession of all
these riches. "Never have I seen such jewels. They blaze like the stars
Cobenzl bowed. "And this sapphire!" continued the prince, "the empress
herself has nothing to compare to it!"
"The czarina looks upon your highness as the brightest jewel in her
crown--as her incomparable sapphire. But observe this turquoise; it is
one of the greenish hue so prized by connoisseurs, and its like is not
to be purchased with money."
Suddenly Potemkin, ashamed of his raptures, closed the casket with a
click and pushed it aside.
"You can tell your emperor," said he, "that you were an eyewitness of
the gratification I have received from this superb addition to my
scientific collections. And now, count, without circumlocution, how can
I serve you, and what does the emperor desire of me? Such gifts as these
indicate a request."
"Frankly, then, the emperor seeks your highness's friendship, and wishes
you to further his majesty's plans."
"What are these plans?"
"Oh, your highness is too shrewd a statesman not to have guessed them,
and not to understand that we merely shift the scene of the war. We
pitch our tents at St. Petersburg with the object of winning Russia to
"But here Prussia holds the battle-field; you will have to fight against
"Not if Prince Potemkin be our ally," replied Dobenzl, courteously.
"True, Prussia has Orloff, Panin, and the grand duke--"
"And who tells you that Prussia has not Potemkin also?" cried the
prince, laughing. "Do you not see that I wear the Black Eagle?"
"Yes; but your highness is too wise to be the ally of Prussia. You are
too great a statesman to commit such a bevue. Orloff, who has never
forgiven you for succeeding him in Catharine's favor, Orloff asks no
greater triumph than that of harnessing your highness to the ear of HIS
"He shall never enjoy that triumph," muttered Potemkin.
"Not if the emperor can prevent it; and, therefore, his majesty hopes
that your highness will sustain Austria."
"But what are Austria's plans?"
"Austria wishes to occupy the place which Prussia now enjoys as the ally
of Russia. Prussia, while wooing the czarina, ogles the grand duke, and
it is her interest to bring them together. I know that the matter was
thoroughly discussed yesterday between Count Panin and the Prussian
"The Prussian ambassador was yesterday in conference with Panin?"
"Not only yesterday, but to-day, I met him coming from Panin's with his
order of the Black Eagle, and a letter for your highness from the king."
"Truly your spies are great detectives," cried Potemkin.
"They are well paid," was the significant reply.
"And what, for example, were the proposals of Von Gortz?"
"Von Gortz stated that as Panin, the grand duke; and himself were not a
match for the emperor and your highness, you were to be won over by
flattery, orders, and promises."
"True!" cried Potemkin. "Your spies are right. What else?"
"Another powerful friend of Prussia has been recalled from his estates,
and summoned to Petersburg."
Potemkin sprang from the sofa with a howl of rage.
"What! Orloff summoned by Von Gortz; he who--"
"Who was enticing your highness with vain promises, had suggested to the
czarina the imperative necessity of recalling Orloff, with the express
intention of holding you in check."
"What an infernal plot! But it bears the stamp of Panin's treachery upon
its face," muttered Potemkin, while with hasty strides he walked up and
down the room.
Cobenzl watched him with a half smile, and taking up the ribbon of the
Black Eagle, he passed it through his hands by way of pastime.
After much going to and fro, Potemkin stopped, and his countenance was
expressive of courage and resolve.
"Count Cobenzl, I know what are the plans of Austria, and they shall be
sustained. Your interests are mine, for it is no longer a question of
Austria or Prussia, but of Potemkin or Orloff! You see, therefore, that
I am sincere; but Austria must sustain me, and we must tread our
political path together."
"Austria will go hand and heart with your highness."
"Austria must sustain me, I say, and our password shall be, `The
Conquest of Turkey.' That is the spell by which I rule the czarina. My
enemies often fill her mind with distrust of me, but that great project
shields me from their weapons. Still I am in danger; for here in Russia,
we look neither to the past nor to the future; the excitement of the
hour reigns absolute. A good subject never knows how to regulate his
conduct. If I were sure of blame for doing evil, or of approbation for
doing good. I might know what to expect from the czarina. But when a
sovereign is the slave of her passions, all ordinary modes of deducing
effect from cause fall to the ground. [Footnote: Potemkin's own words.
Raumer, vol. v., p. 573.] I live in a whirlpool, from which I can devise
no means of escape; but, by the grave of my mother, this life shall
cease! I shall resume my power over the empress, and I shall trample my
enemies underfoot, were they to take shelter under the throne itself!"
While Potemkin spoke thus, he clinched his fist, and his herculean arm
was raised as if to fell his invisible enemies.
"Whosoever be the foe, Austria will be at your side," said Cobenzl.
"I believe you," replied Potemkin, with returning calmness, "for it is
your interest to be there. I know what you desire. First you supplant
Prussia with Russia, and that entails a coolness with France, Prussia's
dearest friend. Then you also dissolve with France, and we both court
the alliance of England, so as to isolate France and Prussia from
European politics. The plan is good, and will succeed if you are
"You must weigh well your behavior toward the czarina. I dare not advise
the emperor, but let me advise you. You have often occasion to see the
empress. Before you see her consult with me as to the topics of your
discourse with her, and so we shall always be enabled to act in concert.
Avoid ail dissimulation; let her perceive that you leave craft to the
lovers of Prussia. Flatter as often as you see fit; flatter Catharine,
however, not for what she is, but what she ought to be. [Footnote: Ibid.]
Convince her that Austria is willing to further her ambition,
not to restrain it, as Prussia has always done. Do this, and in a few
months Austria will have changed roles with Prussia, and your enemies
and mine shall be overthrown together."
A knock was heard at the, door, and an officer entered.
"How dare you interrupt me?" cried Potemkin, stamping his foot.
"Pardon, your highness. The private secretary of the Emperor of Austria
has orders from his sovereign to hand a note to Count Cobenzl in your
"A very singular order. But we will gratify the emperor. Admit his
Gunther was introduced, who bowed low to Potemkin, passed on, and
delivered his note.
"From his majesty's hand," said he. "Your excellency is to read it at
once. It requires no answer." Then, bowing deeply, the secretary backed
out of the room, and the discreet portiere fell, preventing the
transmission of the slightest sound.
"Read," said Potemkin, "for doubtless the emperor has good reason for
Count Cobenzl broke the seal; but instead of a note for himself, a
sealed dispatch within, bore the address of the prince. The count
presented it at once, and Potemkin eagerly tore it open. He seemed
electrified by its contents; so much so that Cobenzl started forward to
his assistance, exclaiming: "Gracious Heaven, what has happened? Your
highness is ill!"
"No, no," said Potemkin, "but read this, that I may be sure I do not
Cobenzl took the letter and read:
"My dear Prince: To win your friendship, I have neither flattery,
decorations, duchies, princesses, nor promises for the future; convinced
as I am that your highness is able to reach the summit of your desires
without help from other mortals. But I have something to impart which
will prove the sincerity of my intentions toward you. An hour ago, Count
Orloff arrived in St. Petersburg, and he is now in secret conference
with the czarina. "Joseph II"
"I was right; it was not my secret apprehensions which conjured those
spectral letters," cried Potemkin; "they are really the writing of the
emperor, and Gregory Orloff is here."
He sprang forward like a bull rushing to the attack.
"Gregory Orloff is with Catharine, and I cannot slay him at her feet.
But stay," exclaimed he, exultingly, and then his words resolved
themselves back into thought. "My key--my key--I will force her to hear
me. Count," continued he aloud, "I beg of you to excuse me, for I must
go at once to the empress. Tell the emperor that if I weather the storm
that is bursting over my head, I will prove to him my eternal gratitude
for the service he has rendered me this day. Farewell! Pray for me; or
if you like better, go home and get up a fine drama for the day of my
"Nothing less than Voltaire's 'Death of Julius Caesar' would suit such
an occasion; but God forbid that your highness should come to harm! I
hasten to do your bidding."
Potemkin, trembling with impatience, stood watching Count Cobenzl, as
with his mincing gait he tripped out of the room, and turned again at
the door to make his last bow. Scarcely had the portiere fallen when he
sprang across the room, and darted toward his sleeping-chamber. Near his
bed stood an escritoire. He flung it open and taking thence a casket
filled with gold chains, diamonds, and other jewels, he turned out the
contents with such violence that they flew over the room in every
direction. He found what he sought; it was a little secret compartment.
He pressed the spring and it opened, revealing nothing but a key! But
Potemkin snatched it up, and, unheeding the treasures worth a million,
that lay scattered about the room, he passed into a little dark
anteroom, thence into a corridor, up and down staircases, forward,
forward, rapidly forward!
Finally he reached the end of a long, narrow corridor. Nothing here was
to be seen save a blank, white wall, which separated Potemkin's dwelling
from the palace of the czarina. But in the corner of this wall was a
scarcely perceptible recess. He pressed it with his finger, when the
wall parted, revealing a door--the door which led to Catharine's own
private apartments. Potemkin's key unlocked it, and he darted through
the opening--on, on, until he reached another door, which also yielded
to his key; and then, breathing freely, he looked around the cabinet of
the czarina, and exclaimed, "I am saved!"
THE EMPRESS CATHARINE.
The magnificent state-apartments of the empress were silent and empty,
for she had given out that she needed solitude to work, she would hold
no levee to-day. But she was not alone; she was in a cabinet which led
to her bedchamber; and with her was Count Orloff, her former lover and
the murderer of her husband.
The empress lay half buried in the depths of a crimson velvet couch; and
her large blue eyes were fixed with an expression of tenderness upon
Orloff, who sat opposite to her. In spite of her fifty years, Catharine
was a very handsome woman. Age had respected her fair, imperial brow,
and the fingers of time had relented as they passed over it. Her eyes
were as bright and beautiful as ever; her lips as red, and their smile
as fascinating, as in the days of her youth; and in her bosom beat the
passionate, craving, restless heart of a maiden of seventeen. This heart
was as capable of love as of hate, and her graceful person as fitted to
inspire love as it had ever been. Just now Catharine was anxious to
please. She thought over the golden hours of her youthful passion, and
tried to win a smile from Orloff's stern face. She forgot in him the man
who had placed a bloody crown upon her head, she saw but the paramour
who had wreathed her brow with the myrtles and roses of requited love.
They had spoken of indifferent things, but Catharine had grown silent,
and the silence was becoming embarrassing to Orloff.
"Your majesty commanded my presence," began he.
Catharine raised her beautiful white arm from the cushion where it lay,
and motioned him to approach.
"Hush, Orloff," said she, in a low voice. "No one hears us, do not call
"My revered sovereign," stammered Orloff, "I--"
"Sovereign! Do I look as if I were your sovereign, Orloff? No, no, I am
here as the woman who is not ashamed of the love we once cherished for
each other. The world says that I am not pious, and verily I believe
that Voltaire has corrupted me; but I have one steadfast faith, and I
cling to it as fanatics do to Christianity. My religion is the religion
of memory, Gregory; and you were its first hierophant."
Orloff muttered some unintelligible words; for truth to tell, he did not
quite comprehend the vagaries of his imperial mistress. He was a man of
deeds, fit for action and strife; but there was neither imagination nor
poetry in his nature. He saw, however, that Catharine smiled and
beckoned. He hastened forward, and bending the knee, kissed her hand.
"Gregory," said she, tenderly, "I sent for you to talk of the prospects
of your son."
"Your majesty speaks of Basil Bobinsky?" asked Orloff, with a smile.
"Yes," replied Catharine, "of your son, or rather, if you prefer it, of
"Your majesty acknowledges him, and yet you have thrust his father from
your heart. You sacrificed me to a man whom I hate--not because he is
my successful rival, but because he does not deserve the love of my
empress; because he is a heartless spendthrift, and a wretch who is
ready to sell his sovereign's honor at any moment, provided the price
offered him be worth the treachery. Oh! it maddens me when I think that
Gregory Orloff was displaced for a Potemkin!"
Catharine laid her jewelled hand upon Orloff's lips. "Hush, Orloff, do
not vituperate. I have called for you to-day to give me peace. I do not
wish the two men who share my heart to stand forever glaring at each
other in implacable hatred. I wish to unite you through the sweet
influences of a young couple's love. I beseech you, Gregory, do not
refuse me the boon I crave. Give your consent for Basil to marry the
Countess Alexandra, Potemkin's niece."
"Never!" thundered Orloff, starting to his feet, and retreating like an
animal at bay. "Never will I consent for my bastard to marry the wench
of such a contemptible fool as Potemkin!" [Footnote: Orloff's own words.
Raumer's Contributions, etc., vol. v., p. 412.]
Catharine rose from her couch with a look of tender reproach. "You will
not grant my heart's dearest wish?" said she.
"I cannot do it, Catharine." cried Orloff, wildly. "My blood boils at
the very thought of being connected to Potemkin. No, indeed! No tie
shall ever bind me to him, that hinders my hand, should you one day ask
of me, to sever his head from his body."
Catharine again put her hand before Orloff's mouth. "Hush, you
fulminating Jove!" said she. "Must you be forever forging thunderbolts,
or waging war with Titans? But you know too well that in your godlike
moods you are irresistible. What a triumph it is to win a boon from such
a man! Invest me with this glory Orloff; and I give up my plan for a
marriage between Basil and Potemkin's niece."
"Niece," echoed Orloff, "say his mistress!"
"Not so," exclaimed Catharine. "So treacherous, I will not believe
Potemkin to be!"
"Nevertheless, Alexandra is his mistress, and the whole court knows it."
"If I find it so, Potemkin shall feel the weight of my vengeance, and
nothing shall save him!" cried Catharine, her eyes darting fire. "But I
tell you it is not so. He has his faults, but this is not one of them."
"Then you confess that the great Potemkin has faults, do you!"