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Chapter 33


Two very different pieces of news, one terrible, one joyful, ran simultaneously through Frankfort. The terrible news was that the burgomaster, who had filled two of the highest positions in the little republic now extinct, who was the father of six children and a model of the household virtues, had just hanged himself rather than yield to a greedy and brutal soldier the secrets of private wealth. The joyful news was that, thanks to Madame von Bülow's intervention and to the appeal made by the queen to her husband, the city of Frankfort had been relieved from the tax of twenty-five million florins.

It will easily be understood that nobody in the town talked of any other subject. Astonishment and curiosity were even more aroused owing to the occurrence of two mysterious deaths at the same time. People wondered how it happened that Frederic von Bülow, after having been insulted by his superior officer, should before he shot himself have charged his wife with her pious errand to Berlin, seeing that he was no citizen of Frankfort, but belonged, body and soul, to the Prussian army. Had he hoped to redeem the terrible deeds of violence committed by his countrymen? Moreover, the young officers who had been present at the quarrel between Frederic and the general had not observed entire silence about that quarrel. Many of them were hurt in their pride at being employed to execute a vengeance of which the cause lay far back amid the obscure resentments of a minister who had once been an ambassador. Those who felt this said among themselves that they were acting the part not of soldiers but of bailiffs and men-in-possession. They had repeated some words of the dispute that had taken place before them and had left the rest to be guessed.

Orders had been given prohibiting the printing of any placard without the authorization of the officer in command; but every printer in Frankfort was ready to contravene the order, and at the very moment when Councillor Kugler threw the burgomaster's rope into the scale, a thousand unseen and unknown hands were pasting upon the walls of Frankfort the following notice.

"At three o'clock our worthy burgomaster Fellner hanged himself and became the martyr of his devotion to the city of Frankfort. Citizens, pray for him."

Benedict, on his part, had visited the printer of the "Journal des Postes" who engaged to furnish, within two hours, two hundred copies of the telegrams interchanged by the king and queen. He further undertook, on condition that the notices were not unduly large, to get them posted by his usual billstickers, who were ready to take the risk of officially announcing the good news to their neighbours. Accordingly, two hours later, two hundred bills were stuck beside the former ones. They contained the following words:

"Yesterday, at two in the afternoon, as is already known, Baron von Bülow blew out his brains, in consequence of a quarrel with General Sturm, in the course of which the general had insulted him. The causes of this quarrel will remain a secret for such people only as do not care to solve it.

"One clause of the baron's will instructed Madame von Bülow to go to Berlin, and to beg of Her Majesty Queen Augusta that the levy of twenty-five million florins, imposed by General Manteuffel, might be withdrawn. The baroness paused only long enough to put on mourning garments before setting out.

"We are happy to be able to communicate to our fellow-citizens the two royal despatches which she sent to us."

The crowds that collected before these notices can be imagined. For one moment the stir that passed through the whole population assumed the aspect of a riot; drums beat, patrols were organized, and the citizens received an order to stay at home.

The streets became deserted. The gunners, whose matches, as we have said already, had been lighted at ten in the morning, once more stood by their cannon with their lighted matches in hand. This sort of threat continued for thirty hours. However, as at the end of that time the crowds were no longer collecting, as no conflicts took place, and no shot was fired, all these hostile demonstrations ceased between the 25th and the 26th.

Next morning fresh placards had been stuck up. They contained the following notice:

"To-morrow, July 26th, at two in the afternoon the funerals will take place of the late burgomaster, Herr Fellner, and of the late chief staff officer, Frederic von Bülow.

"Each party will start from the house of mourning and the two will unite at the cathedral, where a service will be held for the two martyrs.

"The families believe that no invitation beyond the present notice will be necessary, and that the citizens of Frankfort will not fail in their duty.

"The funeral arrangements for the burgomaster will be in the hands of his brother-in-law, Councillor Kugler, and those of Major Frederic von Bülow in the hands of M. Benedict Turpin, his executor."

We will not endeavour to depict the homes of the two bereaved families. Madame von Bülow arrived about one o'clock on the morning of the 24th. Everybody in the house was up, and all were praying round the deathbed. Some of the principal ladies of the town had come and were awaiting her return; she was received like an angel bearing the mercies of heaven.

But after a few minutes the pious duty that had brought her so swiftly to her husband's side was remembered. Everybody withdrew, and she was left alone. Helen, in her turn, was watching by Karl. Twice in the course of the day she had gone downstairs, knelt by Frederic's bedside, uttered a prayer, kissed his forehead, and gone up again.

Karl was better; he had not yet returned to life, but he was returning. His eyes reopened and were, able to fix themselves upon Helen's; his mouth murmured words of love, and his hand responded to the hand that pressed it. The surgeon, only, still remained anxious, and, while encouraging the wounded man, would give Helen no reply; but, when he was alone with her, would only repeat in answer to all her questions:

"We must wait! I can say nothing before the eighth or ninth day."

The house of Herr Fellner was equally full of mourning. Everybody who had filled any post in the old republic, senators, members of the Legislative Assembly, etc., came to salute this dead and just man, and to lay on his bed wreaths of oak, of laurel, and immortelles.

From early in the morning of the 26th, as soon as the cannon were perceived to have disappeared and the town to be no longer threatened with slaughter at any unexpected moment, all the inhabitants congregated about the two doors that were hung with black. At ten o'clock all the trade guilds met together in the Zeil with their banners, as if for some popular festivity of the free town. All the dissolved societies of the city came with flags flying—although they had been forbidden to display these ensigns—determined to live again for one more day. There was the Society of Carabineers, the Gymnastic Society, the National Defence Society, the new Citizens' Society, the young Militia Society, the Sachsenhausen Citizens' Society, and the Society for the Education of the Workers. Black flags had been hung out at a great number of houses, among others at the casino in the street of Saint Gall, which belonged to the principal inhabitants of Frankfort; at the club of the new Citizens' Union, situated in the Corn Market, at that of the old Citizens' Union in Eschenheim Street, and, finally, at the Sachsenhausen Club—a club of the people, if there ever was one—belonging to the inhabitants of that often mentioned suburb.

A gathering, almost as considerable, was collecting at the corner of the Horse Market, near to the High Street. Here, it may be remembered, the house was situated which was generally known in the town as the Chandroz house, although nobody of that name now existed in it except Helen, whose maiden name had not yet been changed for that of a husband. But in the street that led to the burgomaster's house, the middle and working-classes were assembled, while opposite to the Chandroz house the crowd was made up mainly of that aristocracy of birth to which the house belonged.

The strangest feature of this second crowd was the number of Prussian officers who had assembled to render the last honour to their comrade at the risk of displeasing their superiors, Generals Roeder and Sturm. These latter had had the good sense to leave Frankfort without making any attempt whatever to suppress the display of public feeling.

When Councillor Kugler emerged from the burgomaster's house, following the coffin and holding the dead man's two sons by the hand, cries of "Hurrah for Madame Fellner! Hurrah for Madame Fellner and her children!" rang out, in expression to her of the gratitude felt to her husband. She understood this outburst rising to her from so many hearts at once, and when she appeared, dressed in black, upon the balcony with her four daughters, dressed likewise in black, sobs broke forth and tears flowed from every eye.

The same thing happened as Frederic's coffin began its journey; it was to Frederic's widow that Frankfort owed its escape from ruin. The cry of "Hurrah for Madame von Bülow!" rose from hundreds of throats, and was repeated until the fair young widow, wrapped in her draperies of black crape, came forward to accept the expression of gratitude offered her by the whole town.

Although the officers had received no order to attend Frederic's funeral, although neither the drummers who usually precede the coffin of a superior officer, nor the soldiers who usually follow it, had been commanded to do so, yet, either from their military training or their sympathy for the dead man, the drummers were present and so was the escort of soldiers when the procession started, and it advanced towards the cathedral to the sound of muffled drums. At the agreed point the two processions united and went forward side by side, occupying the whole width of the street. Only, like two rivers which run parallel, but of which the waters do not mingle, the leaders of the two parties walked forward. Behind the burgomaster's hearse followed the burghers and the populace; behind that of Baron von Bülow the aristocracy and the military. For the moment peace appeared to have been made between these two populations, one of which weighed so cruelly upon the other that only the death of a man universally esteemed could hold them together for a few instants, leaving them to fall asunder immediately afterwards into mutual hostility.

At the great door of the cathedral the coffins were lifted from the hearses and laid side by side. Thence they were borne into the choir, but the church had been so filled since early morning by a crowd, eager, as the dwellers in large towns always are, for a spectacle, that there was scarcely room for the two coffins to pass to the nave. The military escort, the drums, and the company of soldiers followed them, but when the crowd that accompanied the coffins tried to enter and find a place in the building, it was impossible to do so, and more than three thousand persons were left in the porch and in the street.

The ceremony began, solemn and lugubrious, accompanied by the occasional roll of drums and the sound of gun stocks touching the ground; no one could have said to which of the dead these military honours were being paid, so that the unfortunate burgomaster had his share in the funeral honours bestowed by the very body of men who had caused his death. It is true that from time to time the Choral Society sang funeral hymns and that the voices of the congregation, rising like a wave, stifled these other sounds.

The service was long, and, although it lacked the impressive Roman Catholic pomp, it did not fail to produce an immense effect upon those who were present. Then the two processions set out for the cemetery, the burgomaster attended by funeral chants, the officer by martial music.

The vault of the Chandroz family and that of the burgomaster were at a distance from each other, so that the two parties separated. At the grave of the civilian there were hymns, speeches, and wreaths of immortelles, at that of the officer, firing and wreaths of laurel. The double ceremonies were not entirely concluded until the evening, nor did the gloomy and silent crowd return until then into its usual channels, while the drummers, privates, and officers went to their quarters, if not like a hostile troop, at least like a body altogether apart from the inhabitants.

Benedict had had in his mind throughout the ceremony the idea of presenting himself on the morrow to General Sturm in the character of Frederic's executor, and, as such, demanding satisfaction for the insult offered to his friend. But when he returned to the house he found Emma so overcome, Karl so weak, and the old Baroness von Beling so exhausted by age and woe together, as to make him think that the unhappy Chandroz family still needed him. Now in such a duel as that which he meant to propose to General Sturm, one of the results must inevitably ensue; either he would kill the general or the general would kill him. If he killed the general, he would clearly have to leave Frankfort that very moment, in order to escape the vengeance of the Prussians. If he were killed he would become completely useless to the family which seemed in need even more of his moral protection than of his material support. He determined, therefore, to wait for some days, but promised himself, to send his card daily to General Sturm—and he kept his word. General Sturm could thus be sure, every morning, that though he might forget Benedict, Benedict did not forget him.

Alexandre Dumas pere