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 29

GENERAL STURM


Brigadier-General Roeder, who had replaced General Manteuffel, had brought with him General Sturm and his brigade. Baron von Bülow was the principal staff officer of this brigade, and, as we have related, on the day the Prussians entered Frankfort he had safeguarded the Chandroz family, by placing four men and a serjeant-major in their house. The serjeant-major bore a letter for Madame von Beling, informing her why she was thus garrisoned and urging her to prepare the best rooms on her first floor for General Sturm and his suite. Madame von Beling acted on these instructions, and the men had better rations and cigars supplied to them than if the municipality had catered for them.

After the surgeon's departure Karl lay still unconscious, but his breathing gradually became more perceptible. Towards evening he uttered a sigh, opened his eyes, and by a slight movement of his left hand seemed to beckon Helen. She rushed to him, seized his hand and placed her lips upon it. Benedict wished her to retire, promising to watch over Karl, but Helen refused, saying that no one but herself should nurse him.

Benedict being desirous of ridding himself of the sailor's clothes in which he had descended the river before General Sturm arrived, and having no other suit, left the house to get a new outfit. Lenhart was at the front door with his carriage and, driving to the port, he soon found Fritz and his boat. There was his uniform, with his pistols and carbine. He took them and put them in the carriage. Frisk, who had spent the day incessantly watching for his master, joyfully jumped in. Benedict gave Fritz twenty florins and sent him back to Aschaffenburg. Then Lenhart took him to a tailor where he had no difficulty in obtaining an outfit. Next he took a bath. He had fought during the whole of the 14th and had not closed his eyes during thirty-six hours, so he found it refreshing. Afterwards he allowed Lenhart to take him to his own house, and there he got between the sheets.

When he awoke it was ten o'clock; he had slept for six hours. He rushed to the Chandrozes. He found Helen as he had left her kneeling by Karl's bed. She raised her head and smiled. She also had not slept for thirty hours, but the devotion of women knows no bounds. Nature has intended them for sisters of charity. Love is as strong as life itself.

Karl seemed to sleep; it was evident that, as no blood flowed to it, the brain was in a state of torpor; but every time a spoonful of syrup of digitalis was placed in his mouth he absorbed it better. Benedict's work was to renew the ice which dripped upon the arm, washing the wound made first by the cuirassier's sabre and then by the doctor's lancet.

Towards eight in the morning Emma came into the room for news of the wounded man. She found Helen asking Benedict for more ice. He was an entire stranger to Emma, but by a flash of intuition she guessed him to be the man who had spared her husband's life. She was thanking him when Hans came to announce Fellner. The worthy man was afraid that the Prussians would break into the house, and came to offer his services.

While they were talking, Frederic arrived with the news that his general was only five minutes behind him.

Nothing can describe Emma's joy and happiness in seeing Frederic. The war was nearly over, rumours of peace became stronger, her Frederic was then out of danger. Love is egoistic, scarcely had she thought of what was happening in the city; the entry of the Prussians, their exactions, their imposts, their brutalities, the death of Herr Fischer; all these seemed vague—a letter from Frederic had been the important event. Frederic: it was he whom she embraced. He was safe and sound, unwounded, and no longer in danger. Keenly interested as she was in her sister and Karl and their mutual love, she felt how fortunate Frederic was that he was not Karl.

Frederic went up to Karl, who recognized him and smiled.

While General Sturm ate a splendid dinner, Frederic, to whom Benedict had whispered a few words about the behaviour of the Prussians at Frankfort, went out to judge for himself. He was told that the Senate was sitting and he went in. The Senate declared that the demand made upon it being impossible of fulfilment it submitted itself to the general's clemency.

On leaving the Senate, Frederic saw the cannon trained on the town, the crowds round all the posted bills. He saw besides, entire families driven from their homes by the Prussians, bivouacking on the open spaces. The men were swearing, the women were in tears. A mother was calling for vengeance, as she tended her child of ten, through whose arm a bayonet had been thrust. Without knowing what he did the unfortunate child had followed a Prussian, singing the song that the people of Sachsenhausen had made on the Prussians:


Warte, kuckuck, warte
Bald kommt Bonaparte
Der wird alles wieder holen
Was ihr hobt bei uns gestohlen.[1]


The Prussian had used his bayonet on the lad. But instead of consoling the mother and calling for vengeance with her, the passers-by had signed to her to be quiet, to dry her tears and wipe the blood away; so great was the general terror.

The Prussians, however, had not everywhere had a like experience. One of them lodging with a man of Sachsenhausen, to frighten him had drawn his sabre and placed it on the table. The man without offering any remark had gone out and returned within five minutes with an iron trident, which he in his turn put on the table. "What does this signify?" the Prussian had asked. "Well," was the reply, "you wanted to show me that you had a fine knife, and I have wanted to convince you that I have a fine fork." The Prussian had taken the joke badly, he had tried to make play with his sabre and had been transfixed to the wall with the trident.

Passing by Hermann Mumm's house, the baron noticed him sitting at his door, his head buried in his hands. He touched him on the shoulder. Mumm looked up.

"Is that you?" he said, "and have you pillagers also?"

"Pillagers?" asked Frederic.

"Come and see! Look at my china which my family for three generations has collected—all broken. My cellar is empty, and naturally so, for I have been lodging two hundred soldiers and fifteen officers. Listen to them!" And Frederic heard shouts from within of "wine, more wine! or we blow the place to pieces with cannon balls!"

He went into the house. Poor Mumm's fine house looked like a stable. The floors were covered with wine, straw, and filth. Not a window remained whole, not an article of furniture was unbroken.

"Look at my poor tables," said the unhappy Mumm. "At them have sat for over a century the best people of Frankfort; yes, the king, many princes, and the members of the Diet have dined at them. Not a year ago Frau and Fräulein von Bismarck complimented me on the collation I gave them. And now, days of horror and desolation have come, and Frankfort is lost."

Frederic was powerless and could only leave the place. He well knew that neither General Roeder nor General Sturm would stop the pillaging. Roeder was ruthless, Sturm was mad. He was an old style Prussian general, who when opposed struck down the obstacle.

Presently he met Baron von Schele, the postmaster-general. Since the entry of the Prussians he had received the order to institute a censorship, unsealing letters and drawing up reports upon those who discovered hostile feelings to the Prussian government. He had refused to obey, and, his successor having arrived from Berlin, the censorship was in operation. Von Schele, who looked on Frederic as a Frankfortian rather than a Prussian, told him all this and invited him and his friends to resist.

He reached Fellner's with a broken heart and found all the family in despair. Fellner had just received the official intimation of the refusal of the chief commercial houses to pay the millions demanded by the Prussians and the decree of the Senate in the matter. Although as a member of the Senate he knew its contents, he was re-reading it mechanically, while his wife and children sobbed around him, for all feared what excesses the Prussians might commit on receipt of the refusal. While they sat together, Fellner was informed of the decision just come to by the Legislative Assembly, that a deputation should be sent to the king to obtain the remission of the imposition of twenty-five millions of florins exacted by General Manteuffel.

"Ah," said Frederic, "if only I could see the King of Prussia."

"Why not?" said Fellner, catching at a straw.

"Impossible, my dear Fellner, I am only a soldier. When a general commands I must obey. But, if the millions are going to be found, my family will contribute its share."

Being powerless to assist Fellner, he left him and had walked a few steps when a soldier saluted and asked him to proceed to General Sturm who was waiting for him.

General Sturm was a biggish, strongly made man of about two and fifty. He had a small head, with a high brow. His round face was red and when he was angry, which was often, it became crimson. His large eyes were almost always injected with blood, and he glared with fixed pupils when, as invariably was the case, he wished to be obeyed. All this, with his big mouth, thin lips, yellow teeth, menacing eyebrows, aquiline nose, and thick, short red neck, made him a formidable looking man. His voice was loud and penetrating, his gestures commanding, his movements brusque and rapid. He walked with long strides, he despised danger, but nevertheless seldom encountered any unless it was worth his while.

He had a passion for plumes, red, waving colours, the smell of powder, of gaming; he was as brusque in his words as in his movements; violent and full of pride he brooked contradictions ill and readily flew into a passion. Then his face grew a crimson-violet, his grey eyes became golden and seemed to emit sparks. At such times, he completely forgot all the decencies of life, he swore, he insulted, he struck. Nevertheless he had some common sense, for knowing that he must from time to time have duels to fight, he spent his spare time in sword exercise and pistol shooting with the maitre-d'armes of the regiment. And it must be allowed that he was a first-rate performer with both weapons; and, not only so, he had what was called "an unfortunate hand," and where another would have wounded slightly he wounded badly, and frequently he killed his adversary. This had happened ten or twelve times. His real name was Ruhig, which means peaceful, so inappropriate to its owner that he received the surname of Sturm, meaning storm or tempest. By this name he was always known. He had made a reputation for ferocity in the war against the Bavarians in 1848-49.

When Frederic presented himself he was relatively calm. Sitting in a great chair, and it was rare for him to be seated, he almost smiled.

"Ah, it is you," he said. "I was asking for you. General Roeder was here. Where have you been?"

"Excuse me, general," Frederic answered. "I had gone to my mother-in-law for news of one of my friends, who was seriously wounded in the battle."

"Ah! yes," said the general, "I heard about him—an Austrian. It is too good of you to enquire about such imperial vermin. I should like to see twenty-five thousand of them lying on the battlefield, where I would let them rot from the first man to the last."

"But, your Excellency, he was a friend—"

"Oh, very well—the matter is not in question. I am satisfied with you, baron," said General Sturm, in the same voice in which another man would have said "I loathe you!" "and I wish to do something for you."

Frederic bowed.

"General Roeder was asking for a man with whom I am well pleased, to carry to His Majesty King William I, whom God preserve, the two Austrian and Hessian flags taken by us in the battle of Aschaffenburg. I have thought of you, dear baron. Will you accept the mission?"

"Your Excellency," replied Frederic, "nothing could honour or delight me more. If you recollect, it was the king who placed me near you; to bring me into contact with the king in such circumstances is to do me a favour and to do him, I dare hope, a pleasure."

"Well, you must leave within the hour and not come to me with 'my little wife,' or 'my grandmother.' An hour suffices for embracing all the grandmothers and all the wives in the world, all sisters and children into the bargain. The flags are in the ante-room there. Within the hour jump on the train on your way to Bohemia, and to-morrow you will be with the king at Sadowa. Here is your letter of introduction to His Majesty. Take it."

Frederic took the letter and saluted, his heart full of joy; he had not had to ask for leave; as if the general had read, had known his dearest wish, he had offered it, and with it had done him a favour of which he had not dreamt.

In two bounds he had reached Benedict.

"My dear friend," he said, "I leave for Sadowa in an hour, but hesitate to say with what object."

"Tell me all the same," said Benedict.

"Well, I am taking the flags captured from the Austrians."

"And you can take them without grieving me; for, if all Prussians were like yourself, I should have fought with them and not with the Hanoverians and Austrians," said Benedict. "Now go and say your adieux."

He was still embracing his wife and little child, when the same soldier who had already been sent to him, called to ask him not to take the flags without exchanging a last word with the general.

[1]Wait, wait a bit, cuckoo,
Bonaparte is coming, who
Soon will force you to restore
All you stole from us before.

Alexandre Dumas pere