Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 21

WHAT PASSED AT FRANKFORT BETWEEN THE BATTLES OF LANGENSALZA AND SADOWA


Frankfort followed from afar and with anxiety the struggle which went on in the other parts of Germany. But she did not believe that that struggle could reach even her. By June 29th Prince Charles of Bavaria had been appointed general of the Federated Troops. On the same day Frankfort heard the news of the victory of Langensalza. This caused great joy throughout the town, though no one dared to show it. On June 30th Rudolfstadt and the Hanseatic towns declared that they withdrew from the Confederation. The Württemberg and Baden regiments were in the town; the soldiers, in groups of four and five, went gaily about the streets in hackney carriages. On July 1st, news came of the capitulation of the Hanoverian Army. On July 3rd Mecklenburg, Gotha, and the younger branch of Reuss declared that they withdrew from the Confederation. On July 4th the Prussian papers accused the people of Frankfort of having turned all Prussian subjects out of the town, even those who had been established there for ten years, and of having illuminated their streets on the news of the victory of Langensalza. They had not done so; but the falser the charge, the more it frightened the people of Frankfort. Evidently the Prussians were trying to pick a quarrel with them. On July 5th the gloom increased; news came of the defeat of the Austrians between Konigsgratz and Josephstadt. On July 8th the first news of the battle of Sadowa arrived in Frankfort.

Everything that that fatalist, Dr. Speltz, had said with regard to Marshal Benedek came true. After two checks he lost his head; to speak in the language of Herr Speltz, Saturn ruled above Mars and Jupiter. What he had foreseen in another direction, about the superior equipment of the Prussians—in conjunction with their natural courage—also came true. In no single encounter had the Austrians the advantage. The only victory gained over the Prussians was that when the King of Hanover had been in command.

But what particularly terrified Frankfort was the order given by the commanding officers of the Allies' Army to make entrenchments in the neighbourhood of the town. On this occasion, the Senate awoke from its inactivity, it arose and protested to the Diet that Frankfort was an unfortified town which was not able, and did not wish to be defended. But, in spite of the protestations of the Senate, the troops came to Frankfort.

On July 12th a fresh regiment was announced. It was the 8th regiment of the Federated Army, under the orders of Prince Alexander of Hesse, composed of men from Württemberg, Baden, and Hesse, and an Austrian Brigade commanded by Count Monte Nuovo. They had scarcely entered Frankfort, when Count Monte Nuovo enquired for the house of the Chandroz family, and got himself billeted upon the widowed Madame von Beling who resided there.

Count Monte Nuovo, which title disguised the celebrated name of Neuburg, was the son of Marie Louise. He was a handsome, tall, fashionable general of forty-eight or fifty, who presented himself to Madame von Beling with all the Austrian grace and courtesy, and who, in saluting Helen, let fall from his lips the name of Karl von Freyberg.

Helen started. Emma had excused herself, as the wife of a Prussian, from doing the honours of her house to a man with whom her husband might be fighting on the morrow. This absence gave Count Monte Nuovo the opportunity of being alone with Helen. Helen, it is hardly necessary to say, awaited this moment with impatience.

"Count," said she, as soon as they were alone, "you mentioned a certain name."

"The name of a man who adores you, Fräulein."

"The name of my fiancé," said Helen, rising.

Count Monte Nuovo bowed and signed to her to reseat herself.

"I know it, Fräulein," he said; "Count Karl is my friend. He has bidden me hand you this letter and to give you news of him with my own lips."

Helen took the letter.

"Thank you, sir," she said, and, eager to read it. "You will allow me, won't you?"

"Certainly," said the count bowing, and he appeared to become absorbed in a portrait of Herr von Beling in his uniform.

The letter was all vows of love and protestations of tenderness such as lovers write to each other. Old phrases always new; flowers plucked on the day of creation, and, after six thousand years, as sweet as on the first day.

Having finished the letter, as Count Monte Nuovo still looked straight at the portrait:

"Sir," said Helen, in a low voice.

"Fräulein?" answered the count, approaching her; "Karl lets me hope that you will give me some details yourself," and he adds: 'Before coming to grips with the Prussians, he will, or indeed we shall perhaps, have the pleasure of seeing you again.'"

"It is possible, Fräulein, especially if we meet the Prussians in three or four days."

"Where did you leave him?"

"At Vienna, where he was organizing his volunteer regiment. We arranged a meeting-place at Frankfort, my friend Karl von Freyberg having done me the honour of wishing to serve under my orders."

"He tells me that he has as his lieutenant a Frenchman whom I know. Do you know of whom he is speaking?"

"Yes; he met him at the King of Hanover's, where he went to pay his respects; a young Frenchman called Benedict Turpin."

"Ah! yes," said Helen smiling, "he whom my brother-in-law wished me to marry in gratitude for the sabre-cut he received from him."

"Fräulein," said Count Monte Nuovo, "these things are riddles to me."

"And a little to me also," said Helen; "I will explain to you." And she told him what she knew of Frederic's duel with Benedict. She had scarcely finished when some one simultaneously knocked and rang at the door. Hans went to open it, and a voice asking for Madame von Beling, and reaching her ears through all the closed doors between, made her start.

"What is the matter, Fräulein?" asked Count Monte Nuovo. "You are quite pale!"

"I recognize that voice!" exclaimed Helen.

At the same moment the door opened, and Hans appeared.

"Fräulein," said he, "it is Count Karl von Freyberg."

"Ah!" cried Helen, "I knew it! Where is he? What is he doing?"

"He is below in the dining-room, where he is asking Madame von Beling's permission to pay his respects, to you."

"Do you recognize the gentleman in that?" asked Count Monte Nuovo. "Another man would not even have asked for your grandmother, but have flown straight to you."

"And I could have pardoned him." Then, in a louder voice. "Karl, dear Karl!" she said. "This way!"

Karl came in and threw himself into Helen's arms, who pressed him to her breast. Then, looking round him, he saw Count Monte Nuovo, and held out his hand to him.

"Excuse me, count," said he, "for not having seen you before; but you will readily understand that I had eyes for none but her. Is not Helen as beautiful as I told you, count?"

"More beautiful," replied he.

"Oh! dear, dear Helen," cried Karl, falling on his knees and kissing her hands.

Count Monte Nuovo began to laugh.

"My dear Karl," said he, "I arrived here an hour ago; I asked to be quartered at Madame von Beling's, in order to be able to carry out my commission. It was done as you knocked. I have nothing more to do here. If I have forgotten anything, here you are, and you can supply it. Fräulein, may I have the honour of kissing your hand?"

Helen held out her hand, looking at Karl as if for his permission, which he gave with a nod. The count kissed Helen's hand, then that of his friend, and went out.

The lovers gave a sigh of relief. Fate gave them, amid all the reverses of their political fortunes, one of those rare moments which she grants to those whom she favours most.

The news from the north was only too true. But all hope was not lost in Vienna. The emperor, the Imperial Family, and the Treasury had retired to Pest, and a desperate resistance was being prepared. On the other hand, the cession of Venice to Italy gave liberty to a hundred and sixty thousand men, as a reinforcement to the army in the north. It only remained to revive the spirits of the soldiers by a victory, and it was hoped that Count Alexander of Hesse would gain that victory. The battle would take place in all probability in the outskirts of Frankfort. This is why Karl had chosen to serve in the Prince of Hesse's army, and in Count Monte Nuovo's brigade. There at least, he was sure that he should see fighting. A second cousin of the Emperor Francis Joseph, brave and courageous, he had every interest in risking his life for the House of Austria, to which he belonged.

Helen devoured Karl with her eyes. His dress was that which she had seen him wear every day when she met him going or returning from the hunt; but, without one being able to be precise about it, there was something more warlike about him; his expression was—somewhat more severe. One felt that he was conscious of danger at hand, and in meeting it like a man he met it as one who clung to life, yet who above his life put honour.

During this time, Earl's little troop, whose second in command was Benedict, bivouacked a hundred paces from the railway station, just under the Burgomaster Fellner's windows. Not that they had anything to complain of from the authorities. Karl had sold one of his estates, and each of his men received a shilling every day for food. Each man was armed with a good carbine, rifle-barrelled and able, like a quick-firing gun, to fire eight or ten shots a minute. Each man also carried a hundred cartridges, and, in consequence, the hundred men could fire ten thousand shots. The two leaders carried double-barrelled carbines.

The burgomaster returning to the Hôtel de Ville, found in front of his door the little detachment dressed in an unknown uniform. He stopped with that naïve bourgeois curiosity which we call flânerie. After staring at the soldiers he went on to their leader before whom he stopped, not only with simple curiosity but astonishment. It seemed to him that the face of the leader was not entirely unknown to him.

And in fact, the officer, smiling, asked in excellent German:

"May I enquire after Burgomaster Fellner's health?"

"Ah! heavens and earth!" cried the burgomaster, "I was not mistaken. It is M. Benedict Turpin!"

"Bravo! I told you that your memory was unusually well developed. It must be so to recognize me in this costume."

"But you have become a soldier?"

"An officer."

"An officer! I beg your pardon."

"Yes, an amateur officer."

"Come up to my house; you must be in need of refreshment, and your men are thirsty. Aren't you, my friends?"

The men laughed.

"We are always more or less thirsty," one of them replied.

"Very well, I will send twenty-five bottles of wine and beer down to you," said the burgomaster. "Come in, M. Benedict!"

"Remember that my eye is upon you from the window," said Benedict, "and be careful."

"Be easy in your mind, captain," replied he who had spoken before.

"Madame Fellner," said the burgomaster on entering, "here is a captain of volunteers who is quartered on us. We must give him a worthy reception."

Madame Fellner, who was doing worsted work, raised her head and looked at her guest. An expression resembling her husband's passed over her face.

"Oh! it is surprising, my dear!" she cried, "how like this gentleman is to a young French painter...."

"There!" said Fellner, "there is no need to keep your incognito. Pay your respects to my wife, my dear Benedict; you are recognized."

Benedict held out his hand to Madame Fellner. As for the burgomaster, a slave to his promise, he looked out amongst a bunch of keys that of the cellar, and went down to choose the wine in which he wished Benedict's men to drink his health. A few minutes after, shouts of "Long live the burgomaster!" told that his wine was found to be of good quality.

Alexandre Dumas pere