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Chapter 25

FRISK


In less than an hour and a half they were in sight of Dettingen, which was the more easy to see because it appeared from afar as the centre of a vast fire. As they drew nearer, Benedict said that the light came from the camp fires. After the victory, the Prussians had pressed their outposts beyond the little town.

Helen feared that they would not be allowed to continue their journey, but Benedict reassured her. The pity shown to the wounded, and the respect for the dead in all civilized countries, when once the battle is over, left him no doubt that Helen would be allowed to seek for her fiancé, dead or living, and that he would be allowed to aid her.

In fact, the carriage was stopped at the outposts, and the chiefs of the watch could not take it upon themselves to let them pass, but said they must refer to General Sturm, who commanded the outposts.

General Sturm had his quarters in the little village of Horstein, rather further on than Dettingen. Benedict was told where the house was, and went off at a gallop to make up for lost time. When he reached the house indicated, he found that General Sturm was away and that he would have to speak to the major.

He went in, and an impatient voice called out, "wait a minute."

Benedict had heard that voice before.

"Frederic!" he cried.

It was Baron Frederic von Bülow, whom the King of Prussia had made Staff-major to General Sturm. This rank was an advancement from brigade-general. Benedict explained that he was searching for Karl, who was dead or wounded on the field. Frederic would have liked to go with him, but he had work that must be done. He gave Benedict a permit to search the battlefield, and to take with him two Prussian soldiers as guards, and a surgeon.

Benedict promised to send back the surgeon with news of the expedition, and went out to the carriage where Helen was waiting impatiently.

"Well?" asked she.

"I have got what we want," answered Benedict. Then in an undertone he said to Lenhart, "Go on twenty paces, then stop."

He told Helen what had happened, and that if she wished to see her brother-in-law it would be easy to go back.

Helen chafed at the very idea of seeing her brother-in-law. He would be sure to keep her from going among the dead and wounded, and the thieves who were on the battlefield to rob the dead.

She thanked Benedict, and cried to Lenhart:

"Drive on, please!"

Lenhart whipped up his horses. They got back to Dettingen. Eleven o'clock struck as they entered the town. An immense fire was burning in the principal square. Benedict got down and went towards it. He went up to a captain who was walking up and down.

"Excuse me, captain," he said, "but do you know Baron Frederic von Bülow?"

The captain looked him up and down. It must be remembered that Benedict was still in his boatman's dress.

"Yes," he answered, "I know him, and what then?"

"Will you do him a great service?"

"Willingly; he is my friend; but how came he to make you his messenger?"

"He is at Horstein, and obliged to stay there by order of General Sturm."

"He is very uneasy about a friend of his, who was killed or wounded on the field. He sent me and a comrade to search for this friend, the fiancé of the lady whom you see in the carriage, and said: 'Take this note to the first Prussian officer you see. Tell him to read it, and I am sure he will have the kindness to give you what you ask for.'"

The officer went to the fire, and read what follows:


"Order to the first Prussian officer whom my messenger meets, to put at the disposal of the bearer two soldiers and a surgeon. The two soldiers and the surgeon will follow the bearer wherever he leads them.

"From the quarters of General Horstein, eleven at night:

"By order, General Sturm.
"Principal staff officer,
"BARON FREDERIC VON BULOW."


Discipline and obedience are the two chief virtues of the Prussian army. These are what have made it the first army in Germany. The captain had hardly read his superior's order when he dropped the haughty look which he had assumed for the poor devil of a boatman.

"Hullo," he called to the soldiers round the fire. "Two volunteers to serve the principal staff officer, Frederic von Bülow."

Six men presented themselves.

"That's good, you and you," said the captain, choosing two men.

"Now who is the regiment's surgeon?"

"Herr Ludwig Wiederschall," answered a voice.

"Where is he billeted?"

"Here in the square," answered the same voice.

"Tell him he is to go on an expedition to Aschaffenburg to-night, by order of the staff officer."

A soldier got up, went across the square and knocked at the door; a moment after he came back with the surgeon-major.

Benedict thanked the captain. He answered that he was very happy to do anything for the Baron von Bülow.

The surgeon was in a bad temper, because he had been roused out of his first sleep. But when he found himself face to face with a young lady, beautiful and in tears, he made his excuses for having kept her waiting, and was the first to hasten the departure.

The carriage reached the bank of the river by a gentle slope. Several boats were anchored there. Benedict called in a loud voice:

"Fritz!"

At the second call a man stood up in a boat and said:

"Here I am!"

Benedict issued his orders.

Every one took their places in the boat; the two soldiers in the prow, Fritz and Benedict at the oars, and the surgeon and Helen in the stern. A vigorous stroke sent the boat into the middle of the stream. It was less easy travelling now, they had to go against the current; but Benedict and Fritz were good and strong rowers. The boat went slowly over the surface of the water.

They were far from Dettingen when they heard the clock strike midnight. They passed Kleim, Ostheim, Menaschoft, then Lieder, then Aschaffenburg.

Benedict stopped a little below the bridge, it was there that he wished to begin his search. The torches were lit and carried by the soldiers.

The battle had not been finished until dark; the wounded alone had been carried away, and the bridge was still strewn with dead, against whom one stumbled in the dark corners, and who could be seen by their white coats in the light ones.

Karl, with his grey tunic, would have been easily recognized, if among Prussians and Austrians; but Benedict was too sure of having seen him below the bridge to waste time in seeking for him where he was not. They went down to the fields, strewn with clumps of trees, and at the end of which was the little wood called Joli-Buisson. The night was dark, with no moon, there were no stars, one would have said that the dust and smoke of battle was hanging between the earth and the sky. From time to time silent flashes of lightning lifted the horizon like an immense eyelid: a ray of wan light leapt out and lighted up the landscape for a second with bluish light. Suddenly all became dark again. Between the flashes, the only light which appeared on the left bank of the Main was that of the two torches carried by the Prussian soldiers, which made a circle of light a dozen paces across.

Helen, white as a ghost, and gliding like a ghost over the unevennesses of the ground as if they were non-existent, walked in the middle of the circle with arms outstretched, saying. "There, there, there!" wherever she thought she saw motionless corpses lying. When they came near they found them to be corpses indeed, but recognized Prussians or Austrians by their uniforms.

From time to time also, they saw something gliding between the trees, and heard steps hastening away; these were of some of the miserable robbers of the dead who follow a modern army as wolves used to follow ancient armies, and whom they disturbed in their infamous work.

From time to time Benedict stopped the group with a gesture; a profound silence fell, and in this silence he cried: "Karl! Karl!"

Helen with staring eyes and holding her breath, seemed like a statue of suspense. Nothing replied, and the little troop moved on.

From time to time Helen also stopped, and automatically, under her breath, as if she was afraid of her own voice, called in her turn, "Karl! Karl! Karl!"

They drew near the little wood and the corpses became fewer. Benedict made one of these pauses, followed by silence, and for the fifth or sixth time cried:

"Karl!"

This time, a lugubrious and prolonged cry replied, which sent a shudder through the heart of the bravest.

"What is that cry?" asked the surgeon.

"It is a dog, howling for some one's death," answered Fritz.

"Can it be?" murmured Benedict. Then he went on, "Over here! over here!" directing them towards the voice of the dog.

"My God!" cried Helen, "have you any hope?"

"Perhaps, come, come!" and without waiting for the torches he ran ahead. When he came to the edge of the wood, he cried again:

"Karl!"

The same lugubrious, lamentable cry was heard, but nearer.

"Come," said Benedict, "it is here!"

Helen leapt over the ditch, entered the wood, and without thinking of her muslin dress which was being torn to rags, she pushed on through the bushes and thorns. The torch-bearers had been thoughtful enough to follow. There in the wood they heard the sound of the robbers fleeing. Benedict signed a halt in order to give them time to escape. Then all was silent again he called a third time:

"Karl!"

This time a howl, as lamentable as the two first, answered, but so close to them that all hearts beat quickly. The men recoiled a step. The boatman pointed.

"A wolf!" said he.

"Where?" asked Benedict.

"There," said Fritz pointing. "Don't you see his eyes shining in the dark like two coals?"

At that moment a flash of lightning penetrated the trees, and showed distinctly a dog sitting beside a motionless body.

"Here, Frisk!" cried Benedict.

The dog made one bound to his master's neck and licked his face; then again, taking his place beside the corpse, he howled more lamentably than ever.

"Karl is there!" said Benedict.

Helen sprang forward, for she understood it all.

"But he is dead!" continued Benedict.

Helen cried out and fell on Karl's body.

Alexandre Dumas pere