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Chapter 27

THE PRUSSIANS AT FRANKFORT


In Frankfort all was sorrow and dismay at the news of the defeat. The inhabitants were deeply apprehensive of their treatment by the Prussians since seeing what had occurred in Hanover. On the evening of the battle, as we have said, the news of the disaster had reached Frankfort, and from the next day, the 15th, the conviction that its occupation would be immediate had cast an aspect of mourning over the town. Not a single person was to be seen on the fashionable promenade. The Prussians, so it was said, would make their entry on the 16th after midday.

Night came, and with it a strange solitude in the streets, where, if one met a wayfarer it was evident from his hurry that he was on urgent business, carrying perhaps jewels or valuables for deposit at one of the foreign legations. At an early hour the houses had been shut up. Behind the bolted doors and windows one guessed that the inmates were silently digging holes for the concealment of their treasures.

Morning came and everywhere might be seen affixed placards of the Senate, reading as follows:

"The King of Prussia's royal troops will make their entry into Frankfort and its suburbs; our relations with them will therefore be materially changed from what they were when they were in garrison here. The Senate deplores this change which has been brought about in the relations in question, but the national sacrifices we have already made will render our inevitable pecuniary losses easy in comparison with what we have already lost. We all know that the discipline of the King of Prussia's troops is admirable. In circumstances of great difficulty the Senate exhorts all alike, of whatever rank or position, to give a friendly reception to the Prussian troops."

The Frankfort battalion received orders to hold itself ready, with band in front, to march out and meet the Prussians and do them honour. From ten o'clock in the morning every advantageous spot, all the belfries and housetops from which the suburbs, and particularly the road from Aschaffenburg could be seen, were crowded with curious spectators. Towards noon the Prussians were descried at Hanau. The railway brought them by thousands and they were seen occupying as if by magic all the strategic points along the line, not without certain precautions which indicated their uneasiness as to what might portend.

Nothing occurred, however, until four o'clock. Then successive trains left Hanau bearing the victorious army and rolled up to the town gates until seven o'clock. It was clear that General Falkenstein now waited the submission of the municipality, perhaps believing that the keys of the town would be brought him on a silver salver. He waited in vain.

All was silence. None of the inhabitants moved and the Prussian soldiers, prominent among whom were the cuirassiers who had charged so vigorously in the battle, seemed spectres in their great cloaks and steel helmets. In the evening the Zeil is ever a melancholy place. On this occasion how sad it looked, despair seemed inextricably intermingled with its brooding shadows, in which stood out like a squadron of phantoms the Prussian cuirassiers. Now and again the trumpets sounded sinister fanfares.

The fact that the Prussians were Germans was completely forgotten; their attitude clearly showed that they were enemies.

Suddenly the music of the battalion of Frankfort broke out, coming from the further side of the town. It met the Prussians at the top of the Zeil, drew up in ranks and presented arms to the beating of the drums.

The Prussians did not appear to notice these friendly advances. Two cannons arrived at a gallop. One was trained on the Zeil, the other on the Ross-market. The head of the Prussian column was formed on the Schiller Square and commanded the Zeil: for a quarter-of-an-hour the cavalry remained in line on horseback, then they dismounted and stood awaiting orders. This kind of encampment during which expectation grew tenser lasted until eleven. Then, all at once as the clocks struck, groups of ten, fifteen, or twenty men detached themselves, struck on the doors and invaded the houses.

No order had been given in the town for the provision of rations and wine. So the Prussians, treating Frankfort as a conquered world, chose the most comfortable houses in which to establish themselves.

The battalion remained a quarter-of-an-hour presenting arms; after which the commanding officer ordered muskets to be grounded. The band continued to play. It was ordered to cease.

After two hours, as no word had been exchanged between the battalion and the Prussian army, the former received the order to retire, arms lowered as for a funeral. It was the funeral of Frankfort's liberty.

The whole night passed in the same terrors as if the town had been taken by assault. If doors opened slowly, they were broken; cries of terror were heard in the houses and no one dared to ask what caused them. As the house of Hermann Mumm appeared one of the most important, he had to lodge and board two hundred soldiers and fifteen officers this first night. Another house, that of Madame Luttereth, lodged fifty men, who amused themselves with breaking the windows and furniture, on the alleged pretext that she had given evening parties and balls without inviting the Prussian officers in garrison. Accusations of this kind, accusations which served as the pretext for unheard of violence were preferred against all classes of society. And the Prussian officers said to their men: "You have a right to get all you can from these Frankfort rascals, who have lent Austria twenty-five millions without charging interest."

It was vain to say that the town had never had twenty-five millions in its coffers; that had it had them such a loan could not have been made without a decree of the Senate and the Legislature, and that the most skilful investigator would fail to find a trace of such a decree. The officers persisted, and, as the soldiers had no need to be encouraged in a preliminary pillage while waiting the great day of plunder which had been promised them, they gave themselves up to the most brutal disorders, believing themselves authorized by the hatred of their chiefs towards the unhappy town. From this night commenced what was rightly called the Prussian Terror at Frankfort.

Frederic von Bülow, who knew of the orders to treat Frankfort as a hostile city, had had a guard placed at the Chandroz' house to secure the safety of the family, his pretext being that it had been reserved for General Sturm and his staff.

Daylight dawned and presently, few having slept, all the world was abroad, lamenting their misfortune and enquiring about those suffered by their friends. Then came the billstickers slowly and unwillingly, like men under constraint, fixing up the following notice:


"Authority having been given me over the Duchy of Nassau, the town of Frankfort and its suburbs, as also over that part of Bavaria which is occupied by the Prussian troops and over the Grand-duchy of Hesse, all workmen and functionaries will in future take orders from me. These orders will be duly and formally communicated.

"Dated at Frankfort, July 16th, 1866,

"The Commander-in-Chief of the Army of the Main,
"Falkenstein."


Two hours later the general addressed a note to the Deputies Fellner and Müller, in which he stated that as armies at war could procure what they had need of in the enemy's country, the town of Frankfort would furnish to the army of the Main:

"1. For each soldier a pair of boots to sample.

"2. Three hundred good horses ready saddled to replace those lost by the army.

"3. The pay of the army for a year to be sent instantly to the army treasurer."

By way of recompense the town was to be freed from all imposts, except cigars, the general engaging furthermore to reduce the burden of the military billeting as much as possible.

The total claimed for army pay was 7,747,008 florins.

The two members hastened to General Falkenstein's headquarters, and were admitted to him. His first words were:

"Well, sirs, have you brought my money?"

"We beg leave to submit to your Excellency," said Fellner, "that we have no authority to decree payment of such a sum, as the government of the town having been dissolved, its consent cannot be obtained."

"That does not concern me," said the general, "I have conquered the country and I raise an indemnity. It is perfectly regular."

"Will you allow me to say to your Excellency that a town which does not defend itself cannot be conquered. Frankfort, a free town, relies for its defence on its treaties, and has never thought of opposing your army."

"Frankfort has found twenty-four millions for the Austrians," cried the general, "and can easily find fifteen or eighteen for us. But if it refuses, I myself will find them. Four hours only of pillage and we shall see if your street of the Jews and the coffers of your bankers do not produce twice as much."

"I doubt, general," said Fellner coldly, "whether Germans can be got to treat Germans in such a way."

"Who speaks of Germans? I have a Polish regiment brought expressly."

"We have done no harm to the Poles; we have afforded them a refuge against you whenever they required it. The Poles are not our enemies; the Poles will not pillage Frankfort."

"That is just what we are going to see," said the general, stamping his foot with one of those oaths of which the Prussians enjoy the monopoly. "I don't care a damn if I am called a second Duke of Alva, and I warn you that if at six o'clock to-day the money is not paid, you will be arrested to-morrow and thrown into a dungeon, which you will leave only when the last thaler of the 7,747,008 florins is paid."

"We know your first minister's maxim, 'Might is right.' Dispose of us as you wish," answered Fellner.

"At five o'clock, the men whom I shall order to receive the seven million florins will be at the door of the bank, in readiness to transport the money to my headquarters." Then he added so that the burgomaster could hear the orders: "Arrest and bring before me, the Journalist Fischer, editor in chief of the 'Post Zeitung.' I shall commence with him in dealing with the newspaper men and the newspapers."


Two hours later Fischer was arrested in his house where, after a communication from Fellner he had remained in expectation of the event, and brought to headquarters. General Falkenstein had contrived to keep himself at boiling point, so the moment he saw Fischer:

"Let him enter," he said, in the third person, which in Germany is the sign of the most profound contempt. And, as Fischer did not enter as quickly as the general wished, he cried: "A thousand thunders! if he hangs back, shove him in."

"Here I am," said Fischer; "forewarned of your intention I could have left Frankfort, but it is my custom to face danger."

"Oh! so you knew that you would be in danger, Mr. Pocket-pen, when you reached me."

"An unarmed man is always in danger from a powerful armed enemy."

"You consider me your enemy, then?"

"The indemnity you have exacted from Frankfort and your threats against Herr Fellner are not those of a friend, you will allow."

"Oh! you have no need to await my threats and orders to declare yourself my enemy. We know your paper, and it is because we know it that you are going to sign the following declaration. Sit down there, take a pen, and write."

"I take a pen; but, before using it, what are you about to dictate?"

"You want to know? Well, here it is. I, Dr. Fischer Goullet, Councillor of State, editor in chief.... But you are not writing."

"Finish your sentence, sir, and if I decide to write I will do so."

"Editor-in-chief of the 'Post Zeitung,' acknowledge myself guilty of systematic and calumnious hostility towards the Prussian Government."

Fischer threw down the pen.

"I will never write that, sir," said he; "it is false."

"Tempests and thunders!" cried the general, making a step towards him. "You give me the lie."

Fischer took a newspaper from his pocket.

"This will inform you better than I can, sir," he said; "it is the last issue of my paper published an hour before your entry here. This is what I wrote in it:


"'The history of the days which are to come is written at the point of the bayonet. It is not for the citizens of Frankfort to change anything. For the population of a small and weak state there is nothing else to do but to succour the combatants, whether friends or enemies: they must dress wounds, nurse the sick, exercise charity towards all. Right behaviour is as much the duty of every one as obedience towards the responsible authority.'"


Then, seeing the general shrugging his shoulders, Fischer in his turn took a step forward and holding out his paper:

"Read yourself, if you doubt me," said he.

The general tore it from his hands.

"You wrote that yesterday," he said white with rage, "because yesterday you felt us coming, because, yesterday, you were afraid of us." And tearing up the newspaper he crushed it into a ball and threw it in the Councillor's face, shouting; "You are a coward."

Fischer threw a wild glance around him as if for a weapon with which to avenge this insult; then with his hand to his forehead he staggered, turned round with a strangled cry and fell in a heap, killed by the bursting of a blood vessel in the brain.

The general went to him, pushed him with his foot, and seeing that he was dead:

"Throw this rascal into a corner," said he to his soldiers, "until his family comes to fetch him."

The soldiers dragged the corpse into a corner of the ante-room.

Meanwhile, Fellner, fearing that harm would befall his friend, had run to Hannibal Fischer, the journalist's father, and had told him of the general's orders. Hannibal Fischer was an old man of eighty, he went to the headquarters and asked for his son. The son had been seen going up to the first floor where General Falkenstein held his audiences, but no one had seen him leave. The old man went up and asked for the general. He had gone to lunch and his door was closed.

"Sit down there," said some one, "he may return."

"Cannot you tell him that it is a father who claims his son?"

"What on?" asked one of the soldiers.

"My son, Councillor Fischer, who was arrested this morning."

"Why, it is the father," said the soldier to his comrade.

"If he wants his son, let him take him," said the other.

"How, take him?" said the old man, bewildered.

"Certainly," answered the soldier. "There he is waiting for you." And he pointed to the corpse in the corner.

The father approached the body, knelt on one knee and raised his son's head.

"Then they have killed him?" he asked the soldiers.

"No, indeed, he died of his own accord."

The father kissed the corpse on the forehead.

"These are unhappy days," he said, "in which fathers bury their children."

Then he went down, called a street porter, sent him for three of his mates, mounted again to the ante-chamber and showing them the body:

"Take my son," he said, "and bear him to my house." The men took the body on their shoulders and bore him to a barrow. The father walked before it bare-headed and pale, his eyes bathed in tears; and to all who questioned him about this strange procession, carrying a dead man through the town without a priest, replied: "It is my son, Councillor Fischer, whom the Prussians have killed." And thus the news spread over Frankfort.

Alexandre Dumas pere