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Chapter 16

THE DEPARTURE


Since the Schleswig-Holstein troubles, the Diet had always assembled at Frankfort on June 9th, this year that date was the day after the attempted assassination of Bismarck on which Benedict drank to the health of France. The Diet, knowing of the mobilization of the Landwehr and the dissolution of the Chamber, decreed that, if Frankfort were not to be compromised in its position as a free and imperial town in the various events which would necessarily follow a war between Prussia and Austria, the Prussian and Austrian garrisons must be withdrawn, and replaced by a Bavarian garrison.

It was agreed that Bavaria should appoint the commander-in-chief, and Frankfort the governor of the town. The Bavarian Colonel Lessel, who had been for many years member of the federated military commission for Bavaria, was appointed commander-in-chief, and the lieutenant-colonel of the Frankfort battalion became governor of the town.

The departure of the Prussian and Austrian troops was fixed for June 12th, and it was decided that the Prussians should leave by two special trains on the Main-Weser line, at six and eight in the morning, for Wetzlar, and the Austrians at three in the afternoon of the same day.

This arrangement was known in Frankfort on the 9th, and as may be understood, filled the Chandroz house with despair. Emma would be separated from her husband and Helen from her lover.

We have said that the Prussians were to leave first. At five in the morning Frederic said farewell to his wife, his child, his dear sister Helen, and the grandmother. It was too early for Karl von Freyberg to be in the house at that hour; but he waited for his friend on the Zeil. He and Helen had agreed the evening before that after having seen Frederic off Karl should come back and wait for her in the little Catholic church of Notre Dame de la Croix.

The harmony between the two young people was perfect. Helen and Karl, though born in two different countries hundreds of leagues apart, were both Catholics. Doubtless they had selected this early hour, because they knew the little liking the people of Frankfort had for the Prussians. No manifestation of regret was shown on the departure of the latter, perhaps they were watched through the closed shutters, but not a window or blind opened for a flower to fall which might say "Au revoir," no waving handkerchief said "Farewell!"

One would have sworn it was a troop of the enemy leaving a town, and the town itself seemed only to wait for their departure in order to wake up and rejoice. Only the officers of the city battalion came to the station courteously to see them off, wishing nothing better than soon to fight them with deadly hate.

Frederic left by the second train at eight o'clock in the morning, consequently Karl was late and it was Helen who waited for him. She was standing by the holy water stoup leaning against a white pillar. She smiled sadly when she saw Karl, gently dipped two fingers in the holy water and held them towards him. Karl took her whole hand, and made the sign of the cross with it.

Never had the beautiful girl looked so lovely as at this moment when Karl was going to be parted from her. She had scarcely slept all night; all the rest of the time she had wept and prayed. She was dressed in white like a bride, with a wreath of little white roses on her head. They went together, Karl with Helen's hand in his, to kneel in one of the side chapels where Helen was accustomed to pray. Almost all the ornaments in the chapel, from the altar cloth to the Virgin's dress, were the work of her hand alone, and the Madonna's gold and pearl crown had been her gift. They prayed together; then Karl said:

"We are going to part, Helen; what vows shall I make you? and in what words shall they be made?"

"Karl," replied Helen, "tell me again before the beloved Madonna who has watched over me in childhood and youth, tell me again that you will love me always, and that you will have no other wife but me."

Karl quickly extended his hand.

"Ah! yes," he said, "and willingly! for I have always loved you. I love you now, and I shall love you always. Yes, you shall be my wife in this world and in the next, here and above!"

"Thank you," said Helen; "I have given you my heart, and with my heart, my life. You are the tree, and I am the creeper; you are the trunk and I am the ivy which covers you with its verdure. At the moment when I first saw you, I said with Juliet: 'I will belong to you or to the tomb.'"

"Helen," cried the young man, "why link that dismal word with such a sweet promise?"

But she, not listening, continued her thought:

"I ask no other vow than that which you have sworn, Karl; it is the repetition of mine; keep yours as it is; but when I have said that I will love you always, that I will never love any one but you, and that I will never be another's, let me add: and, if you die, I will die with you!"

"Helen, my love, what are you saying?" exclaimed the young man.

"I say, my Karl, that since my heart has left my bosom, to dwell in yours, you have become all that I think of, all I live for; and that if anything happened to you, I should not need to kill myself, I should only have to let myself die. I know nothing of these royal quarrels, which seem to me wicked, because they cost the blood of men and tears of women. I only know that it matters not to me whether Francis Joseph or William I is victorious. I live, if you live I die, if you die."

"Helen, do you wish to drive me mad, that you say these terrible things?"

"No, I only wish you to know, when you are absent, what is happening to me, and if, when far from me, you are mortally wounded, instead of saying: 'I shall never see her again!' you must simply say: 'I am going to meet her!' And I say this as truly and sincerely as I lay this wreath at the feet of my beloved Virgin."

And she took her wreath of white roses and laid it at the Virgin's feet.

"And now," she continued, "my vow is made, I have said what I had to say. To stay here now, to speak longer of love would be sacrilege. Come, Karl; you go this afternoon at two o'clock, but my sister, my grandmother, and Frederic will permit you to remain with me till then."

They rose again, offered each other the holy water and left the church. The young girl took Karl's arm for from that moment she considered herself as his wife. But with the same feeling of respect which made him take off his kolbach when he entered the church, he only allowed her hand to lie lightly on his arm all the way from Notre Dame de la Croix until they reached the house.

The day was passed in intimate conversation. On the day when he had asked Helen which were her favourite colours and she had answered green, he had made a resolution which he now explained to her. This was what he wished to do.

He would ask his colonel for eight days' leave; surely fighting would not begin for eight days. It would take him scarcely twenty hours to reach his mountains, where he was king. There, besides the twenty-two rangers always in his service he would select seventy-eight chosen men from the best Styrian hunters. They should wear the uniform he himself wore when hunting, he would arm them with the best rifles he could find, then he would give in his resignation as captain in the Lichtenstein Light Infantry, and ask the emperor to appoint him captain of his free company. An excellent shot himself, at the head of a hundred men renowned for their smartness, he could hope for results which, when buried in a regiment under the orders of a colonel there would be no possibility of his attaining.

There would also be another advantage in this arrangement. As the head of a free regiment, Karl would have liberty of movement. In such a case he would not be attached to any special regiment. He would be able to fight on his own account, doing all possible harm to the enemy, but only answerable to the emperor. He would thus be able to remain near Frankfort, the only town which now existed for him in the world, since in this town lived Helen. The heart exists not where it beats, but where it loves.

According to the Prussian plan of campaign which was to envelop Germany as in a half-circle, hurling king, grand-dukes, princes, and peoples one on the top of another while marching from west to east, there would certainly be fighting in Hesse, in the duchy of Baden, and in Bavaria, all near Frankfort. It was there that Karl would fight; and with good spies he could always ascertain where his brother-in-law was likely to be and so avoid the risk of meeting him.

In the midst of all these plans, for which unfortunately they could not enlist the aid of Fortune, time was flying. The clock struck two.

At two o'clock the Austrian officers and soldiers were to assemble in the courtyard of the Carmelite barracks. Karl kissed the baroness and the child lying in its cradle beside her; then he went with Helen to kneel before her grandmother and ask her blessing.

The dear old lady wept to see them so sad; she laid her hands upon their heads wishing to bless them, but her voice broke. They both rose, and stood mute before her; silent tears flowed down their cheeks. She pitied them.

"Helen," she said, "I kissed your grandfather when I bade him farewell, and I see no reason against your granting poor Karl the same favour."

The young people threw themselves into each other's arms, and their grandmother, under pretext of wiping away a tear, turned away, leaving them free for their last kiss.

Helen had long sought for some means of seeing Karl again, after leaving the house where he had been permitted to take his last farewell. She had not succeeded, when suddenly she remembered that the burgomaster Fellner, her sister's godfather, had windows overlooking the station.

She asked her good grandmother to come with her to ask her old friend for a place in his window. Women who remain beautiful when growing old generally keep a young heart: the kind grandmother consented. So it was only a goodbye of the lips which the young people had already said; there remained a last adieu of the eyes and heart.

Hans was ordered to bring round the carriage without delay; while Karl went to the Carmelite barracks. Helen would have time on her part to go to the burgomaster Fellner. Helen made a sign to Hans to hurry, but he replied with another that it was unnecessary. She then glanced again at Karl, he had never seemed so handsome as at this moment when about to leave her. She came down leaning on his arm, in order not to leave him until they reached the threshold, the last moment possible. Once there, a last kiss sealed their separation and pledged their vows.

A hussar waited for his captain at the door, holding his horse; Karl saluted Helen once again, then galloped off, sparks flying from under his horse's hoofs: he was more than a quarter of an hour late.

The instant he had gone, Hans came with the carriage; in another moment they were at Herr Fellner's.

Frankfort was now a very different town to what it had been in the morning. We have told of the sombre and sad departure of the Prussians, who were detested there. The citizens now wished to give a friendly farewell to the Austrians, who were adored.

Therefore, although the departure was a separation, and each separation may hide the invisible and hide also a coming grief, this departure was to be made a farewell fete. The windows were all draped with Austrian flags, and at each window where floated a flag might be seen the prettiest women of Frankfort with bouquets in their hands. The streets which led to the station were crammed with people until one asked how the regiment could pass. In the street leading to the station, the Frankfort regiment stood at attention, each soldier with the stock of his rifle between his feet, and a bouquet in the muzzle of it.

The crowd was so great that Helen was obliged to get out of the carriage. At last she reached the house of Herr Fellner, who, although not formally advised of the engagement of his young friend, had noticed that Captain Freyberg was not indifferent to her. His two daughters and his wife received Helen and her grandmother at the door of their apartments. They formed a charming family, living with Herr Fellner's sister and brother-in-law, who had no children.

In the days of peace and happiness at Frankfort, Herr Fellner and his brother-in-law received their friends twice every week. Any strangers of distinction passing through were sure to be made welcome by Herr Fellner. It was at his house that Benedict Turpin had met the Baroness Frederic von Bülow, a meeting which as we have seen he did not forget.

At three o'clock precisely, they heard in the midst of cries, hurrahs, and acclamations, the trumpets of the regiment, which was coming to the station by the Zeil and the street of All Saints, playing Radetzky's March.

It might have been said that the whole population of Frankfort was following the splendid regiment. Men waved flags from the windows above them; women threw them their bouquets, and then waved their handkerchiefs with those cries of enthusiasm which women only know how to utter on such occasions.

Helen had recognized Karl, as soon as he turned the corner, and Karl had answered her waving handkerchief by saluting with his sabre. When he passed under the window she threw him a scabious bound up with forget-me-nots. The scabious meant "sorrow and desolation," and the forget-me-not "Do not forget me."

Karl caught the flowers in his kolbach and fastened them on his breast. Still turning to look back, his eyes never left Helen until the moment when he entered the station. At length he disappeared.

Helen leaned far out of the window. Herr Fellner put his arm round her waist and drew her back within the room. Seeing the tears that flowed from her eyes and divining their cause:

"With the help of God, dear child," he said, "he will return."

Helen escaped from his arms, and threw herself on a sofa, endeavouring to hide her tears in the cushions.

Alexandre Dumas pere