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Chapter 32

QUEEN AUGUSTA


All through the night that was so sorrowful for the Fellner family the Baroness von Bülow was travelling rapidly to Berlin, where she arrived about eight o'clock in the morning.

In any other circumstances she would have written to the queen, asked for an audience, and fulfilled all the requirements of etiquette. But there was no time to lose; General von Roeder had allowed only four-and-twenty hours for the payment of the indemnity. It was due at ten o'clock, and in case of refusal the city was threatened with immediate pillage and bombardment. Notices at the corners of all the streets proclaimed that at ten o'clock on the morrow the general with his staff would be waiting in the old Senate Hall to receive the levy. There was, indeed, not a moment to lose.

On leaving the train, therefore, Madame von Bülow took a cab and drove straight to the Little Palace, where the queen had been living since the beginning of the war. There Madame von Bülow asked for the chamberlain, Waals, who, as has been said already, was a friend of her husband's; he came instantly, and seeing her dressed all in black, cried out:

"Good God! has Frederic been killed?"

"He has not been killed, my dear count, he has killed himself," answered the baroness, "and I want to see the queen without a moment's delay."

The chamberlain made no objections. He knew how highly the king valued Frederic; he knew, also, that the queen was acquainted with his widow. He hastened to go and beg the desired audience. Queen Augusta is known throughout Germany for her extreme kindness and her distinguished intelligence. No sooner had she heard from her chamberlain that Emma had come, dressed in mourning, probably to implore some favour, than she exclaimed:

"Bring her in! Bring her in!"

Madame von Bülow was immediately summoned and, as she left the room in which she had been waiting, she saw the door of the royal apartments open and Queen Augusta waiting for her in the doorway. Without advancing another step the baroness bent one knee to the ground. She tried to speak, but the only words that escaped her lips were:

"Oh, Your Majesty!"

The queen came to her and raised her up.

"What do you want, my dear baroness?" she asked. "What brings you, and why are you in mourning?"

"I am in mourning, Your Majesty, for a man and for a city very dear to me, for my husband who is dead, and for my native city which is at death's door."

"Your husband is dead! Poor child! Waals told me so, and he added that he had killed himself. What can have driven him to such a deed? Some injustice must have been done him. Speak, and we will redress it."

"It is not that which brings me, madam; I am not the person to whom my husband has left the duty of avenging him; in that respect I need only leave God's will and his to take their course; what brings me, madam, is the despair of my city upon whose ruin your armies, or rather your generals, seem to be resolved."

"Come, my child, and tell me about it," said the queen.

She led Emma into her drawing-room and seated herself beside her; but Emma slipped from the sofa and knelt once more before the queen.

"Madam, you know the city of Frankfort."

"I was there last year," said the queen, "and had the kindest possible reception."

"May the remembrance of it help my words! General Falkenstein when he came to our city began by laying upon it a tax of seven million florins; that levy was paid, together with one, about equally heavy, in kind. That made fourteen millions already, for a small town of seventy-two thousand inhabitants, half of whom were foreigners, and consequently did not contribute to the payment."

"And did Frankfort pay it?" asked the queen.

"Frankfort paid it, madam, for that was still possible. But General Manteuffel arrived and put on a tax, in his turn, of twenty-five million florins. Such a tax, if imposed upon eighteen million subjects, madam, would yield more milliards of coin than the whole world contains. Well, and at this very hour cannon are planted in the streets and on the positions that command the town. If the sum is not paid at ten o'clock to-day—and it will not be paid, madam, it is impossible—the city will be bombarded and given over to pillage, a neutral unwalled city, which has no gates, which has not defended itself and cannot defend itself."

"And how comes it, my child," asked the queen, "that you, a woman, have taken upon yourself to ask justice for this city? It has a Council."

"It has one no longer, madam; the Council has been dissolved, and two of the councillors arrested."

"And the burgomasters?"

"They do not dare to take any step for fear of being shot. God is my witness, madam, that I did not put myself forward to come and plead for that unhappy city. It was my dying husband who said to me 'Go!' and I came."

"But what can be done?" said the queen.

"Your Majesty needs no adviser but your heart. But, I repeat, if by ten o'clock to-day, no counter-order comes from the king, Frankfort is lost."

"If only the king were here," said the queen.

"Thanks to the telegraph, Your Majesty knows that there are no distances now. A telegram from Your Majesty can receive an answer in half-an-hour, and in another half-hour that answer can be sent to Frankfort."

"You are right," said Queen Augusta as she went towards a little bureau loaded with papers.

She wrote:


"To His Majesty the King of Prussia.

"BERLIN, July 23rd, 1866.

"Sire, I approach you to entreat humbly and earnestly that the indemnity of twenty-five million florins arbitrarily imposed upon the city of Frankfort, which has already paid fourteen millions in money and in kind, may be withdrawn.

"Your very humble servant and affectionate wife,

"AUGUSTA.

"P.S. Please reply immediately."


She handed the paper to Emma who read and returned it. Herr von Waals was summoned and came instantly.

"Take this telegram to the telegraph office and wait for the answer. And you, my child," continued the queen, "let us think about you. You must be worn out, you must be starving."

"Oh, madam!"

A second time the queen touched her bell.

"Bring my breakfast here," said she; "the baroness will take some with me."

A collation was brought in, which the baroness scarcely touched. At every footstep she started, believing it to be that of Herr von Waals. At length hurried steps were heard, the door opened and Herr von Waals appeared, holding a telegram in his hand.

Emma, forgetful of the queen's presence, rushed towards him, but paused half-way, ashamed.

"Oh, madam, forgive me," said she.

"No, no," replied the queen, "take it and read it."

Emma, trembling, opened the despatch, glanced at it and uttered a cry of joy. It contained these words:


"At the request of our beloved consort, the indemnity of twenty-five million florins levied by General Manteuffel is countermanded. WILLIAM."


"Well," said the queen, "to whom should this despatch be sent in order that it may arrive in time? You, dear child, are the person who has obtained this favour, and the honour of it ought to rest with you. You say it is important that the king's decision should be known in Frankfort by ten o'clock. Tell me to what person it should be addressed."

"Indeed, madam, I do not know how to make any answer to so much kindness," said the baroness, kneeling and kissing the queen's hands. "I know that the proper person to whom to send it would be the burgomaster; but who can tell whether the burgomaster may not have fled or be in prison? I think the safest way—excuse my egoism, madam—but if you do me the honour of consulting me, I would beg that it may be addressed to Madame von Beling, my grandmother; she, very certainly, will not lose a moment in putting it into the proper hands."

"What you wish shall be done, my dear child," said the queen, and she added to the despatch:


"This favour has been granted to Queen Augusta by her gracious consort, King William; but it was asked of the queen by her faithful friend, Baroness Frederic von Bülow, her principal lady-in-waiting."

"AUGUSTA."


The queen raised Emma from her knees, kissed her, unfastened from her own shoulder the Order of Queen Louisa and fastened it on the baroness's shoulder.

"As for you," she said, "you need some hours' rest, and you shall not go until you have taken them."

"I beg Your Majesty's pardon," replied the baroness, "but two persons are waiting for me, my husband and my child."

Nevertheless, as no train left until one in the afternoon, and as the hour could neither be hastened nor retarded, Emma resigned herself to waiting.

The queen gave orders that she should receive the same attentions as though she were already a lady-in-waiting, made her take a bath and some hours' rest, and engaged a carriage for her in the train for Frankfort.

That city, meanwhile, was in consternation. General Roeder, with his staff, was waiting in the Council Hall for the payment required; scales were ready for the weighing. At nine o'clock the gunners, match alight and in hand, came to take their places at the batteries.

The deepest terror prevailed throughout the town. From the arrangements which they saw being made, the Frankforters judged that no mercy was to be expected from the Prussian generals. The whole population was shut up indoors waiting anxiously for the stroke of ten o'clock to announce the town's doom.

All at once a terrible rumour began to circulate, that the burgomaster, rather than denounce his fellow-citizens, had ended his life—had hanged himself. At a few minutes before ten, a man dressed in black came out of Herr Fellner's house; it was his brother-in-law, Herr von Kugler, and he held in his hand a rope. He walked straight on, without speaking to anybody, or stopping till he reached the Roemer, pushed aside with his arm the sentinels who attempted to prevent his passing, and, entering the hall in which General von Roeder was presiding, he advanced to the scales and threw into one of them the rope that he had been carrying.

"There," said he, "is the ransom of the city of Frankfort."

"What does this mean?" asked General von Roeder.

"This means that, rather than obey you, Burgomaster Fellner hanged himself with this rope. May his death fall upon the heads of those who caused it."

"But," returned General von Roeder brutally, while he continued to smoke his cigar, "the indemnity must be paid all the same."

"Unless," quietly said Benedict Turpin, who had just come in, "King William should withdraw it from the city of Frankfort."

And, unfolding the despatch that Madame von Beling had just received, he read the whole of it in a loud voice to General von Roeder.

"Sir," said he, "I advise you to put the twenty-five million florins into your profit and loss account. I have the honour to leave you the despatch as a voucher."

Alexandre Dumas pere