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Chapter 11

BARON FREDERIC VON BULOW


And now we will leave our friend Benedict Turpin in order to follow one of his adversaries who is destined to become an important character in our story. We mean Baron Frederic von Bülow, whom we left with Georges Kleist in the glade of Eilenriede.

Although his wound appeared at first sight the more serious of the two, it was not in reality so. Moreover, he was the most eager to leave the field. Entrusted as he was with a mission to Frankfort, he had turned aside from his road to call Benedict to account, and from the first moment that he was able to bear the fatigue of the journey he did not lose a moment in pursuing it.

Although untouched by the ball, the impact of the broken pistol with the right side of Kleist's face had had deplorable results. The blow was so violent that it had left a bruise of the exact shape of the muzzle of the pistol. His eyes were bloodshot and his cheek immoderately swollen. In short, Herr Kleist would be obliged for at least a fortnight to forgo the pleasures of society.

When the Baron Frederic von Bülow and Herr Kleist arrived at the Royal Hotel they found their misadventure and Benedict's triumph were already public property. The fact of their being Prussians was no recommendation, and they were received with an amount of derision which induced Herr Kleist, suffering though he was, to take the train immediately. As for the major, having already accomplished a third of his journey, he had only to continue on a branch line running direct from Hanover to Frankfort.

We have already given some account of the appearance and physique of the Baron Frederic von Bülow; we will now complete our description, first relating the romantic manner in which he entered the military career and the happy chance by which his undoubted merits found their due reward.

Frederic von Bülow came of a family belonging to Breslau. He had been a student at Jena. One fine day he resolved to make a tour which is frequently undertaken by German students along the banks of the Rhine. He set out alone; not that he was in the least misanthropical; but he was a poet. He loved to travel according to the inclination of the moment, to stop when it suited him, proceed when he pleased, and have no companion drawing him to the left when he wanted to follow a charming woman to the right.

He had reached the most picturesque part of the Rhine; the Seven Mountains. On the opposite bank, on the summit of a lofty hill there stood a fine Gothic castle, lately restored. It belonged to the brother of the King of Prussia, who was then only the Prince Royal. Not only had he rebuilt the castle on its ancient foundations, but he had furnished it throughout with appointments of the sixteenth century, collected in the neighbourhood from the peasantry and convents, and new pieces made by clever workmen from ancient models. Hangings, tapestries, mirrors, all were of the same period, and formed a charming miniature museum of arms, pictures, and valuable curiosities. When the prince was not in residence he allowed the castle to be shown to visitors of distinction.

How difficult it is to define the phrase "visitors of distinction." Frederic, whose family was of ancient nobility, considered that he had a right, though travelling on foot, to see the castle. Knapsack on shoulder, staff in hand, he climbed the steep path and knocked at the door of the keep. The sound of a horn was heard, and the door opened. A porter appeared and an officer in the costume of the sixteenth century, who asked what could be done for him. Frederic von Bülow explained his wish as an archaeologist to see the Prince Regent's castle. The officer replied, regretting he was not able to gratify him; the prince's intendant had arrived the evening before, preceding his master only by twenty-four hours. Visitors could no longer be admitted. But the traveller was invited according to custom to inscribe his name, titles, and qualifications in the visitors' book. He took a pen and wrote Frederic von Bülow, student of the University of Jena. Then he took up his iron-shod stick, saluted the officer, and began to descend the path.

But he had not taken a hundred steps when he heard himself called. The officer beckoned and a page ran after him, saying the intendant begged him to return and would take upon himself to grant the desired permission to see the castle.

In the ante-room Frederic met, as if by chance, a man of about fifty-eight or sixty. It was the prince's intendant. He entered into conversation with the young man, appeared pleased with him, and offered to be his guide throughout the castle, an offer that Frederic took good care to accept. The intendant was very well informed; Frederic was a young man of ability, and three or four hours had passed without either being aware how the time was going, when a servant announced, dinner. Frederic gracefully expressed his concern at leaving his cicerone so soon; and his regret was evidently shared by his guide.

"See here," he said. "You are travelling as a student; I am here en garçon. Suppose you dine with me. You will not dine so well as you might with the king, but at any rate it will be better than hotel fare."

Frederic protested as far as he thought good breeding demanded, but as he was really longing to accept the invitation he ended by acceding with visible pleasure, and they consequently dined together. Frederic was a delightful companion, being both poet and philosopher, qualities one finds only united in Germany. He quite made a conquest of his host, who after dinner proposed a game of chess. Midnight struck, and each thought the evening barely begun. It was not possible to return to the village at such an hour. Frederic, after some modest reluctance, remained at the castle and slept in the Landgrave Philip's bed; and it was only the next day after lunch that he obtained his host's permission to resume his journey.

"I am not without some slight influence at court," said the intendant on taking leave of him, "and if I can ever be of any service to you, pray make use of me."

Frederic promised that he would.

"And whatever may happen," added his host, "I shall remember your name. You may forget me, but I shall not forget you."

Frederic finished his travels on the Rhine, returned to the University of Jena, concluded his studies there, entered the diplomatic service and was greatly astonished at being one day summoned to the cabinet of the grand duke.

"Sir," said the great man, "I have selected you to convey my congratulations to William the First, King of Prussia, on his recent accession to the throne."

"But, Highness!" cried Frederic in astonishment, "who am I to be honoured with such a commission?"

"Really! are you not Baron Frederic von Bülow?"

"Highness! Baron? I? But since when have I become a baron?"

"Since I made you one. You will start at nine o'clock to-morrow; your letters of credit will be ready at eight."

Frederic could only bow and utter his thanks; he bowed deeply, gratefully thanked the grand duke and left the room.

The next morning at ten o'clock he was in the train and by the evening he was in Berlin. His arrival was immediately announced to the new king. The new king replied that he would receive him the following day at the castle Of Potsdam.

On the morrow Frederic, in his court suit, started for Potsdam and arrived at the castle. But to his great astonishment he learnt that the king had just gone away and had left only his intendant to represent him.

Frederic's first idea was to return to Berlin; but he remembered that it was this official who had entertained him so kindly and courteously two years before at the castle of Rheinstein. He did not want to appear ungrateful or offended, so had his name sent in accordingly. But while crossing the ante-room he observed a full-length portrait of the king. He stopped for an instant stupefied. His Majesty resembled his intendant as one drop of water resembles another. The truth now dawned on Frederic. It was the king's brother himself who, to-day reigning as King William I, had received him at the castle of Rheinstein, who had acted as his guide, had kept him to dinner, who had won three games of chess out of five, and had made him sleep in the Landgrave Philip's bed—who had offered his influence at court, and who on taking leave of him had promised not to forget him.

He understood now why he had been chosen by the Grand Duke of Weimar to carry his congratulations to the king; why the Grand Duke of Weimar had made him a baron, why the king had appointed a meeting at Potsdam, and why finally His Majesty had returned to Berlin, leaving his intendant only to represent him.

His Majesty wanted to enjoy another day like that they had passed together at Rheinstein. Frederic was a good courtier, and was ready to contribute all in his power to this caprice. He entered as if he had no suspicion, greeted his host like an old acquaintance, only showing the respect due to an older man, thus recalling the scene which had left such a pleasing influence on his mind.

The intendant made excuses for His Majesty, and invited Frederic to pass the day at the castle of Potsdam, an invitation which was accepted like the one at Rheinstein. He again offered his services as cicerone, took him into the mausoleum, and showed him the tomb and the sword of the Great Frederic.

A court carriage was ready waiting for them, and they went to see the castle of Sans-Souci, which is only two miles from Potsdam. It was here, it will be remembered, in the park of this chateau that the famous mill was situated which its owner refused to sell to Frederic II, and which caused the king to exclaim when the miller gained his lawsuit, "So there are still judges at Berlin!" In the sequel the descendants of the stubborn miller were softened and sold their mill to William I, who, wishing to preserve it as a monument of the occurrence, refused to allow it to be demolished.

But time, which cares nothing for the commands of kings, had in store for William and his guest an example of its disregard. An hour before the arrival of Frederic and the so-called agent, the four sails of the windmill had fallen, bringing down in their fall the balustrade which surrounded it. So that to day one must conclude that there are no longer judges in Berlin, as there is no longer a mill at Sans-Souci.

On their return to Potsdam, Frederic and his companion found a table ready laid for two. They dined alone together, played five games of chess out of which the agent won three, and it was only at midnight that they separated, when on the agent wishing Frederic a good night, the latter replied with a deep bow: "Sire, may God grant Your Majesty a good night."

The next day the fiction was abandoned. The king breakfasted with Frederic, gave him the Order of the Red Eagle, and with much pressing induced him to hand in his resignation and join the army. A week later he received his commission as lieutenant of the line, and came to pay his respects in his new character to the king, who undertook that the king would ever remember him whom the prince had promised not to forget.

Two years later, Frederic received a proof that the king indeed had not forgotten. His regiment was stationed in garrison at Frankfort, where at the house of Herr Fellner, the burgomaster, he made the acquaintance of a family of French descent exiled by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, which had since its expatriation become Catholic. The family consisted of the mother, aged about thirty-eight, the grandmother, who was sixty-eight, and two girls of twenty and eighteen. Their family name was Chandroz.

The elder daughter, Emma, had black hair, black eyes, a pale clear skin, and well-marked eyebrows; her marvellously beautiful teeth showed like pearls against her vividly red lips. She had, in fact, that stately dark beauty which suggests the Roman matron, Lucretia and Cornelia in one.

Helen was worthy of her name. Her hair was of that exquisite blonde tint which can only be compared to the colour of ripe corn. Her complexion faintly tinted with rose had the freshness and delicacy of the camellia. And the effect was almost astonishing when under these fair locks, and upon that countenance of almost transparent pallor, she raised large dark eyes, eloquent of passion, overarched with dark eyebrows and fringed with lashes which gave to their sparkling orbs deep reflections like those of the black diamonds of Tripoli. And as one had only to look at Emma to see foreshadowed in her the calm and wisdom of those matrons among whom the Catholic religion finds its saints, so one could divine in Helen all that tempestuous future which the united passions of two races hold in store for the hybrids of their sex.

Whether it were that this strange manifestation of divine caprice dismayed him, or whether he felt himself drawn by irresistible sympathy to the elder of the two sisters—it was to her that the Baron von Bülow paid his homage. He was young, handsome, and rich. It was known that the King of Prussia held him in warm regard. He stated that if he were granted Emma's hand, his royal protector at the same time would make him a captain. The two young people were in love, and the family had no serious opposition to raise to their union. They said: "Obtain your promotion as captain, and we will see." He asked three days' leave, started for Berlin, and came back on the third day with his captain's commission.

All was arranged. But during his absence Emma's mother was slightly indisposed. Her illness increased, developed into disease of the lungs, and at the end of six months Emma was doubly orphaned.

It was a further reason for giving the family a protector. The grandmother, sixty-nine years of age, might die at any moment. They waited till the strict season of mourning dictated both by their hearts and by custom had elapsed, and at the end of six months they were married.

Three days after the birth of his first child, a boy, the Baron Frederic von Bülow received his commission as major. On this occasion the protection of the king was so obvious and so kindly intentioned that the baron resolved to make a second journey to Berlin, not on this occasion to ask for favours, but to return thanks for them. This journey was all the more opportune because a word dropped by His Majesty's secretary had warned him that there were great events on the horizon in which he might take part, and that he would do wisely to come to Berlin on any suitable pretext and see the king in person.

And in fact we have already said that Count von Bismarck had worked hard to bring great events to pass. The king had three times received Baron Frederic in private, and had freely discussed with him the probability of a terrible war. To crown all, he attached him to the staff, so that he might become aide-de-camp to any general whom he sent to any special place, or even at need to his son or his cousin.

This was how Baron Frederic chanced to find himself at Berlin on June 7th, that is, on the day of the attempted assassination of Bismarck. As we have seen, he, with two other officers rescued Benedict from the hands of the mob; but, having promised the crowd that the Frenchman should shout "Long live Prussia! Long live King William I!" he was confounded when, instead of adopting this prudent course, Benedict declaimed Alfred de Musset's verses on the Rhine, almost as well known in Prussia as the song to which they were an answer. He and his comrades took this affront, which the public had witnessed, as a deliberate insult. All three presented themselves at the Black Eagle, which Benedict as we know had given as his address, intending to demand immediate satisfaction.

But, as they met each other and learnt that their errands were all the same, they recognized that three men, who do not wish to gain their end by intimidation, cannot all demand satisfaction from a single opponent. For this reason they cast lots as to who should have the honour of fighting with Benedict, and the lot as we have seen fell upon Frederic.

Alexandre Dumas pere