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Chapter 31

THE BURGOMASTER


Two things had principally struck Sturm in Frederic's short will. First; the legacy to Benedict of vengeance; but we must do him the justice to say that this was a minor consideration. There is an unfortunate error amongst military men that courage is only to be found under a uniform, and that one must have seen death at close quarters in order not to fear it. Now we know that Benedict in this respect was on a level with the bravest soldier. Under whatever aspect he encountered death, whether it might be at the point of the bayonet, by the talons of a tiger, the trunk of an elephant, or the poisonous fang of a serpent; still it was death—the farewell to sunshine, life, love; to all that is glorious and all that makes the breast beat high; and in its place, that dark mystery which we call the grave. But Sturm did not recognize the threat of death, for he was protected by his individual temperament and character from perceiving it. He could only recognize an actual menace accompanied by shouts, gesticulations, threats, and oaths. And Benedict's extreme politeness gave him no idea of serious danger. He supposed, as all vulgarians do, that any one who goes duelling with the courtesy of the ordinary forms of life is arming at preserving by his politeness a means of retreat.

Therefore Frederic's legacy to Benedict troubled him little. But it was also prescribed that Madame von Bülow should start for Berlin to beg of the queen the remission of the fine imposed upon Frankfort. He decided to see General von Roeder without a moment's delay and tell him what had occurred.

He found Roeder furious at the Senate's decision. After listening to Sturm he determined to have recourse again to his old tactics. He took a pen and wrote:


"To Herren Fellner and Müller, burgomasters of Frankfort and government administrators.

"I have to request you to supply me by ten o'clock to-morrow morning with a list of the names and addresses of all members of the Senate, of the permanent house of representation, and of the Legislative Assembly, house-property owners being identified as such.

"VON ROEDER.

"P.S.—Scales for weighing gold are waiting at General von Roeder's address. An answer to this despatch is requested."


Then he directed an orderly to deliver the document to Fellner as the senior burgomaster. Fellner was not at home. He had just received Benedict's sad tidings; and being one of Frederic's most intimate friends had hastened to the Chandroz' house, telling the news to all whom he met on the way.

In less time than it takes to relate, the fact of Frederic's death burst upon the town, and its leading citizens, scarcely able to credit it, flocked to the room where his body lay.

Fellner was astonished at not seeing Emma; heard that she had gone to Berlin, and was asking the cause of this incomprehensible step when Councillor Kugler burst in, General Roeder's letter in his hand. Fellner opened it at once, read it, meditated; and approaching the bier gazed at his dead friend. After a few seconds of contemplation, he stooped, kissed the forehead, and murmured: "It is not only the soldier who knows how to die."

Then he slowly left the house, crossed the town with bent head, reached the house and shut himself up in his room. Supper time came. Supper is an important meal in Germany. It is the cheerful repast, at which, in commercial towns especially, the head of the family has time to enjoy the society of his wife and children; for dinner at two o'clock is only an interval hastily snatched in business hours. But by eight, o'clock business people have thrown off their harness; the hour of domestic pleasure has come. Before refreshing sleep descends to prepare men for another day there is an interval in which to enjoy all that they hold dear within the four walls of home.

Nothing of the sort was possible on this evening of July 22nd at the Fellners'. The burgomaster showed perhaps even more than his customary fondness for his children, but it was touched with melancholy. His wife, whose gaze never left him, was unable to speak a word; tears stood in her eyes. The elder children observing their mother's sadness sat silent; and the little ones' voices like the chirping of birds, drew for the first time no smiling response from their parents.

Herr von Kugler was mournful. He was one of those men who act promptly and vigorously, without deviating from the straight course of honour. No doubt he had already said to himself: "Were I in his place, this is what I should do."

Supper dragged on. All seemed reluctant to rise from the table. The children had dropped asleep, no summons having come from the nurse. At last, Mina, the eldest girl, went to the piano to close it for the night and unconsciously touched the keys.

The burgomaster shivered.

"Come Mina," he said, "play Weber's 'Last Thought'; you know it's my favourite."

Mina began to play, and the pure melancholy notes poured forth like golden beads dropped on a salver of crystal. The burgomaster propped his bowed head in his hands as he listened to that sweet poetic melody, the final note of which expired like the last sigh of an angel exiled to earth.

Fellner rose and kissed the girl. She exclaimed in alarm:

"What is the matter with you, father? you are crying."

"I?" said Fellner quickly. "What nonsense, my child," and he tried to smile.

"Oh!" murmured Mina, "you can say what you like, father, but I felt a tear; and see," she added, "my cheek is wet."

Fellner put a hand on her mouth. Mina kissed it.

At this the father nearly gave way, but Kugler murmured in his ear:

"Be a man, Fellner!" He grasped his brother-in-law's hand.

Eleven o'clock struck—never except for a dance or evening party had the family sat up so late. Fellner kissed his wife and the children.

"But, surely you are not going out?" said Madame Fellner.

"No, my dear."

"Your kiss was like a goodbye."

"Goodbye for a little while," said the burgomaster, trying to smile. "Don't be uneasy, I am going to work with your brother, that is all."

Madame Fellner looked at her brother and he gave a sign of assent. Her husband took her to her bed-room door:

"Go to sleep, dear one," he said, "we have much work before us that must be done before morning." She stood where she was until she had seen him enter her brother's room.

Madame Fellner spent the night in prayer. This simple woman, whose only eloquence was to say "I love you," found words to implore God for her husband. She prayed so long and ardently, that at length sleep came to her where she knelt; for great was her need of it.

When she opened her eyes the first light of the dawn was filtering through the window blinds. Everything seems strange, fantastic, at such an hour. It is neither night nor day and nothing looks as it does at any other time. She gazed around. She felt weak and chilly and afraid. She glanced at the bed—her husband was not there. She rose, but everything danced before her eyes. "Is it possible," she thought, "that sleep overtook him also while he worked? I must go to him." And, groping her way through the passages, which were darker than her own room, she reached his. She knocked on the door. There was no answer. She knocked louder, but all was silent. A third time she knocked and called her husband's name.

Then, trembling with anguish, under a premonition of the sight that awaited her, she pushed open the door. Between her and the window, black against the sun's first rays, hung her husband's body suspended above an overturned chair.

Alexandre Dumas pere