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Chapter 18

THE DECLARATION OF WAR


On June 15th, at eleven in the morning, Count Platen of Hallermund, presented himself to the King of Hanover. They had conversed for some minutes when the king said:

"I must tell this news to the queen. Wait for me here; I will come back in a quarter of an hour."

Within the palace King George required no guide. Queen Mary was engaged upon a piece of wool work with the young princesses. Seeing her husband she went to him and offered him her forehead to kiss. The princesses took possession of their father's hands.

"See," said the king, "this is what our cousin the King of Prussia does us the honour to communicate through his First Minister." The queen took the paper and began to read. "Stay," said the king, "I want to call Prince Ernest."

One of the princesses hurried to the door.

"Prince Ernest," she cried to the usher.

Five minutes after the prince came in, embraced his father and sisters, and kissed his mother's hand.

"Listen to what your mother is going to read," said the usher to him.

The Minister Bismarck in the name of his master offered to Hanover an offensive and defensive alliance, on the condition that Hanover should support Prussia to the utmost of its power with men and soldiers and should give the command of its army to King William. The dispatch added that if this pacific proposal were not immediately accepted the King of Prussia would consider himself as in a state of war with Hanover.

"Well?" asked the king of his wife.

"No doubt," she replied, "the king has already decided in his wisdom what is best to do; but, if he has not finally decided and such a feature as the opinion of a woman is considered to be as a weight in the balance, I would say to you, refuse, sire!"

"Oh yes, yes, sire!" cried the young prince, "refuse!"

"I thought it right to consult you both," replied the king, "partly because of your upright and loyal natures, partly because your interests are one with mine."

"Refuse, father: the prediction must be fulfilled to the end."

"What prediction?" asked the king.

"You forget, sire, that the first word which Benedict said to you was this: 'You will be betrayed by your near relation.' You are betrayed by your German cousin; why should he be wrong about the rest since he was right at the beginning?"

"You know that he has predicted our downfall?"

"Yes, but after a great victory. We are little kings, it is true; but we are, on the English side, great princes, let us act greatly."

"That is your opinion, Ernest?"

"That is my prayer, sire," said the young prince, bowing.

The king turned to his wife and interrogated her by a movement of his head.

"Go, my dear," said she, "and follow your own thought, which is ours also."

"But," said the king, "if we are obliged to leave Hanover, what will happen to you and the two princesses?"

"We will stay where we are, sire, in our castle of Herrenhausen. After all, the King of Prussia is my cousin, and if our crown is in danger through him, our lives are not. Summon your council, sire, and take with you the two voices which say to you: 'Not only no treason against others, but above all no treason against our honour!'"

The king called a council of his ministers, who unanimously voted for refusal.

At midnight Count Platen replied verbally to the Prince of Issemburg, who had brought the proposal.

"His Majesty the King of Hanover declines the proposals of His Majesty the King of Prussia; as he is constrained to do by the laws of the Confederation."

This reply was instantly telegraphed to Berlin.

Immediately upon the receipt of the reply, another telegram from Berlin ordered the troops concentrated at Minden to enter Hanover. A quarter-of-an-hour later, the Prussian troops set foot over the borders of Hanover.

A quarter-of-an-hour had sufficed for Prussia to receive the reply and to order the opening of the campaign. Already the Prussian troops from Holstein, who had obtained permission from His Majesty the King of Hanover to cross his territory in order to get to Minden, had stationed themselves at Marbourg, and were thus in occupation, within the kingdom, as enemies, even before the king's decision.

Moreover, King George had only held back his answer until the evening in order to secure time for taking measures himself. Orders had been given to the different regiments of the Hanoverian army to mobilize and assemble at Gottingen. The intention of the king was to manouvre so as to obtain the assistance of the Bavarian army.

Towards eleven at night, Prince Ernest had asked permission of Queen Mary to take leave of her and at the same time to present to her his friend Benedict. The real object of the young prince was to get his mother to entrust her hand to the palmist, and to be reassured by him as to the dangers which might encompass the queen.

The queen received her son with a kiss, and the Frenchman with a smile. Prince Ernest explained his wish to her. She readily granted his request and held out her hand. Benedict knelt on one knee and respectfully put his lips to the tips of her fingers.

"Sir," she said, "in the circumstances in which we are placed, it is not my good- but my ill-fortune that I wish you to tell me."

"If you see misfortunes before you, madam, I may be permitted to seek in yourself the powers which Providence has given you to resist them. Let us hope that the resistance will be stronger than the strife."

"A woman's hand is feeble, sir, when it has to struggle against that of destiny.

"The hand of destiny is brute force, madam; your hand is intelligent force. Look, here is a very long first joint to the thumb."

"What does that mean?" asked, the queen.

"Will power, Majesty. Your resolution once taken, reason alone can conquer you and make you change—danger, accident, persecution, never."

The queen smiled and nodded approvingly.

"Also, you can bear to hear the truth, madam. Yes, a great misfortune menaces you."

The queen started. Benedict went on quickly.

"But, calm yourself, it is neither the death of the king, nor of the prince: the line of life is magnificently marked, on their hands. No, the danger is entirely political. Look at the line of fate: it is broken here, above the line of Mars, which shows from what direction the storm will come; then this line of fate, which might dominate again if it stopped at the circle of the middle finger, that is, at the circle of Saturn, goes on, on the contrary, to the base of the first finger, a sign of ill-fortune."

"God tries every one according to the rank he holds. We will endeavour to bear our ill-fortune like Christians if we cannot bear it like kings."

"Your hand has answered me before you, madam; the Mount of Mars is smooth and without lines, the Mount of the Moon is smooth and even; it means resignation, madam, the first of all the virtues. With this power Diogenes broke his porringer; with this, Socrates smiled at death; with this, the poor man is a king, the king is a god! With resignation and calm any strong feeling shown in the hand, worthily developed may replace the line of Saturn and create a new good fortune. But there will be a long struggle first. That struggle presents strange signs. I see in your hand, madam, auguries opposed to each other; a prisoner without a prison, wealth without riches: an unhappy queen, a happy wife, and a happy mother. The Lord will try you, madam, but as a daughter whom He loves. For the rest, you will have every kind of resource, madam; first music, next painting; the pointed and slim fingers show that; religion, poetry, invention, two princesses who love you at your side, a king and a prince who love you from a distance. God tempers the wind to the freshly shorn lamb."

"Yes, sir, shorn to the quick," murmured the queen, raising her eyes to heaven. "After all, perhaps the misfortunes of this world will secure the joys of another. In this case, I shall be not only resigned, but consoled."

Benedict bowed like a man who, having accomplished what was required of him, only awaits his dismissal.

"Have you a sister, sir?" asked the queen of Benedict, as she toyed with a string of pearls, fastened by a clasp of diamonds, which evidently belonged to one of the young princesses.

"No, madam," replied Benedict, "I am alone in the world."

"Then do me the pleasure to accept this turquoise for yourself. I am not making you a present; under that guise it would be worthless. No! it is an amulet which I offer you. You know that we people of the north have a superstition that turquoises bring good luck. Keep this as a remembrance of me."

Benedict bowed, received the turquoise ring and put it on the little finger of his left hand. While he did this the queen called Prince Ernest to her, and took up a satchel of perfumed leather.

"My son," said she, "we know the place which the exile's first step leaves, but not that at which his last will pause. This satchel contains 500,000 francs worth of pearls and diamonds. If I wished to give them to the king, he would refuse to take them."

"Oh! mother!"

"But to you, Ernest, I have the right to say I wish it! I wish you, dear child, to take this satchel as a last resource, to bribe a gaoler if you are made prisoner; to reward devotion—who knows—perhaps for the personal needs of the king or yourself. Hang it round your neck, put it in your belt; but in all cases, keep it always upon you. I embroidered it with my own hands; it bears your own monogram. Hush! here is your father!"

At this moment the king came in.

"There is not a minute to spare, we must be off," said, he, "Ten minutes ago the Prussians entered Hanover."

The king embraced the queen and his daughters; and Prince Ernest, his mother and sisters. Then, clinging together, king, queen, prince, princesses, went down the steps before which the horses were waiting. There took place the last adieus: there, tears flowed from the eyes of the most valiant, as well as from those of the most resigned. The king set an example by mounting his horse first.

The prince and Benedict rode two horses exactly alike, which were of the beautiful Hanoverian race, crossed with an English strain. An English carbine, which would send a pointed bullet four thousand yards, hung at the saddle-bow; and a pair of double-barrelled pistols, as true as duelling pistols, rested in the holsters.

A last farewell passed between the riders already in the saddle and the queen and princesses on the steps. Then the cavalcade, preceded by two scouts bearing torches, started at a quick trot.

A quarter-of-an-hour later they were in Hanover. Benedict proceeded to the Royal Hotel to settle his account with Mr. Stephen. Every one was up, for the news of the invasion of the Prussians and the departure of the king had already spread. As for Lenhart, he was invited to join the main body of the army with his vehicle. The rendezvous, as we know, was at Gottingen. As Lenhart was greatly attached to the dog Frisk, Benedict did not hesitate to entrust it to his care.

A deputation of the notabilities of the town, with the burgomaster at their head, waited on the king to bid him farewell. The king, his voice full of emotion, commended his wife and daughters to their care. There was but one voice in assuring him of their devotion. The whole town was abroad notwithstanding the hour of the night, and accompanied him, shouting 'Long live the king! Long live George V! May he return victorious!' Again the king commended the queen and the princesses, not now to the deputation, but to the whole population. The king entered the royal carriage amid a concert of tears and sobs. One would have said that every daughter had just lost a father, every mother a son, every sister a brother. Women crowded to the door of his carriage to kiss his hand. The locomotive had to whistle five or six times, and the signal had five or six times to be repeated, before the crowd could be detached from the carriage doors. At last the train had to be put into motion so as to shake off gently and almost imperceptibly the clusters of men and women who clung to it.

Two hours later Gottingen was reached.

Alexandre Dumas pere