« ZurückWeiter »
PALACE TAL E S.
INTRODUCTION. DURING a lengthened residence in Germany, I insensibly fell into the habits of the country-one of them being that of visiting an inn every night, where I drank my choppin and smoked my pipe. Among the usual guests were several who especially attracted my attention, for they had been formerly court servants, and I thought it very possible that they might possess some curious anecdotes about those sinks of iniquity, the smaller German courts of fifty years ago. Nor were my expectations deceived, for I heard the two following stories from them, which made so deep an impression on me, that I carefully noted them down at the time. I have let the old gentlemen speak in the first person, in order that there might be no alteration on my part, which was to be deprecated, as the stories are facts, and the events really occurred at the Court of Hnot very many years ago.
THE WHITE LADY. You all know, as well as I, that our late most gracious master was at length left with only one daughter, as his sons died one after the other at an early age. Through this the throne devolved on a collateral branch, who, thirty years ago, would not have even thought of ever being able to pay their debts; but man proposes, and God disposes. · At the time, however, of which I am now speaking, the princes were still living, and the royal family flourishing. But, although every one of us knew that one of the princes would eventually mount the throne, the whole court paid much less attention to them, than it did to the Princess Marie.
I was at that time only a footman, and had to follow behind, whenever the young lady went out walking with her governess. I was always well pleased at it, though I felt very nervous at times, for the child gave way to the most extraordinary fancies, and was, at the same time, on such friendly terms with everybody, that a number of children, and even grown up persons, would follow us.
Our troubles, however, were incessant. At one moment she would give away everything she had upon her person ; then she saw a stream, and wished to bathe, or a grass-covered terrace, and wanted to roll down it. Mademoiselle de Noël might well say that this was all very improper ; and I occasionally was forced to interfere, and remind her of her gracious father. The child would entreat so prettily, and dance round us, and flatter, and play all sorts of mad tricks, so that at last we were compelled to yield one thing, to keep her from doing all the rest. When we reached home again, I used to receive plenty of abuse ; but the next time Marie would do just as she pleased, for even the duke himself could refuse her nothing, when she looked at him with her gentle brown eyes, or threw her arms round his neck and kissed him.
All this may be very charming in a child, but when the princess grew
up and became daily more beautiful, it caused her much sorrow, that she was forced to put those restraints upon herself, which she would never learn. She wore one dress to-day and another to-morrow, and fancied herself most charming in each; in the same way she imagined that she could change her lovers as she pleased, as if she did not know that the poorest girl and a princess are equal in two things: in their last journey, and in their first love. The difference of rank, of course, has a great deal to do in the matter; all of you, I dare say, when you were young, thought that you could make love to any pretty girl ; but not one of you would have dared to talk about such things to a princess, even if you were convinced that she was dying of love for you.
At court, though, there are always people enough who will run any risk, and try to seize the whole hand, when a princess wishes to have a whim and only offers a single finger.
Thus it came then, that the Princess Marie, before she was seventeen years of age, had had all sorts of intrigues, and acquired through them a considerable amount of chagrin.
I do not know the details intimately, for I was no longer near her person, having been appointed porter at the old palace in the residence; the duke and the prince, however, resided in the new palace. Still things of this nature are talked about among servants, if only in whispers, for no one dared or would speak openly about it, for we all loved the princess too much ; she was always a kind mistress to us, and troubled herself about us, if matters did not go as well with us as they should.
I could see it all; for if she had any sorrow on her heart she would sit at the window and look out into the garden like a caged bird, the tears would then course down her burning cheeks, and her heart would try to burst from her bosom. Poor thing! when I saw her in this state, I could not have betrayed her to the duke, even if she had done much worse, or he had questioned me, himself.
We all entertained the same sentiments, and, strange to say, the ladies of the court as well. These women are assuredly to be pitied, for envy gnaws incessantly at their heart; and yet they screened the princess, through her kindness and condescension to them.
In the town itself, not a word was said about it ; the citizens would have esteemed it simple calumny; and although they often grumbled about the duke, especially about his love for sporting, yet I would not have advised anybody to say a word against the princess, for he would certainly have repented it.
What the duke thought about it all I never clearly discovered; he probably entertained his own views on the subject. Still he must have been acquainted with it; for when a too scandalous affair occurred, and, at the same time, it was stated that the princess would be shortly affianced to a crowned head, he certainly said nothing further, but he placed her again under strict surveillance, and she was forced to live in the old palace with the first lady of the bedchamber.
Nothing more was heard for months, and her life was made bitter enough to her; for at that day there was a deep moat round the old palace, and the only road led over a bridge past me, and I knew every one who came in and out, and indeed had to write their names in a book.
At the same time, too, the court was very quiet. The crown prince
had died very suddenly, and although the other two young gentlemen, were still happy and cheerful, a fear and a weight lay upon everybody, and doubtlessly on the princess, as if they had a foreboding that the old family was hastening towards its end.
It was no joke to have anything to do with our illustrious duke then; for misfortune did not suit hiin at all, but caused a great alteration in him.
Christmas had passed silently and mournfully, and a terrible winter had commenced. I sat sorrowfully, too, at my window in the gateway, for I dare not go away, and yet had nothing to do. I assure you I could have counted the footsteps in the snow, so few people had gone in and out during the whole day.
It was growing dark, and they were beginning to light the lamps in the corridors, when the Chamberlain Vogel went past and stepped into my room for a moment.
“ Of course you have heard it," he said, as he took a seat.
“ Well, that the White Lady began showing herself in the palace again yesterday.”
This startled me. I sprang up, and exclaimed, “That was all we wanted to settle it. Now the little life at court will entirely cease, and each of the royal personages fancy that the appearance of the White Lady forebodes his speedy death. I am only sorry for the poor princess;; they have already deprived her of her liberty, and now she will lose both light and air."
" Yes, and the worst is," the chamberlain said, “ that the White Lady disappears in the apartments of the first lady of the bedchamber. She comes from the top of the corridor, near the plate-room and the court marshal's office, then descends the narrow, steep staircase into the corridor which leads on the left to the rooms which his highness formerly inhabited, and on the right to the Princess Marie's present abode. There she sinks into the ground.”
I trembled all over as I asked him, “ Does his highness know it yet?"
“ I fancy not," the chamberlain replied, as he stood at the window, and played the tattoo on the panes ;. “ but there I see a person coming over the bridge, who will be able to tell us, if he will. You know him. better than I do—call him in."
It was Baron Bilgram, who was at that time page to his highness, and whom I had often enough let in and out by night without writing, his name in the book.
He came in quickly when I called him, and we hurriedly told him the whole story. I thought to myself that he would laugh at it, for he: was still young and careless. At the same time, he had been at a bad school for the last half year, and had attached himself to Count Revel, who, though many years older than him, was only three or four-andthirty, and reckoned the handsomest gentleman at court. The count was a very haughty man, and wore an expression as if he found no pleasure in anything. He was, however, very clever, and a great. favourite of his highness; to whom he was first adjutant, so that nobody liked to say aught against him.
As the page laughed too loudly at our superstition, as he called it,
I. at length became vexed, and gave vent to my anger, which is not often the case with me: for. I said : * If the gracious gentleman uttered his own sentiments, I should have nothing to say against it, for the affair. will prove itself. But what he now says, is only what he has heard from Count Revel, who always boasts of his free thinking, that he may not be compelled to call his faults by their right name. Iam only one of the lowest at court, but the gracious gentleman would do better, if he would listen more to the advice of a humble man, than to the finesses of the count. Without God there is no real honour, and when I see how pale the gracious gentleman now looks, and remember how healthy he appeared half a year ago, it seems to me as if the count did not make the best instructor for youth.”
The chamberlain was terribly alarmed, at my remarks, and secretly nudged me : but I knew the baron better, for if he was not precisely handsome, he had the most honest countenance in the world, and was a true, worthy German. Nor. was he at all. angry; he only laughed still more, and said, “ Donnerwetter, Mathies, are you a preacher's son ?”
“ The gracious gentleman tries to make the affair ridiculous," I replied, without suffering myself to be frightened ; “ but still I am in the right; we should not laugh at such a thing, for no one knows what lives between. heaven and earth. And besides, it is our duty to trouble ourselves about such things, and see whether it is a ghost, or flesh and blood; and doubly so for the gracious gentleman. For what would the princess say, if I were to tell her that Baron Bilgram laughed heartily, because the White Lady had disappeared in her apartments, and must have terrified her to death?”
I knew very well that the page was devoted to the princess, and purposely spoke thus; for he was almost of the same age as herself, and had been her favourite playfellow when a child. She was very fond of him. too, and was always the same with him; I really believe more so than with other men, for he was not handsome, and never flattered, but was just what he was.
Still I could not account for the terror which my last words caused him. He sprang up from his chair, his eyes sparkled, and his voice almost failed him, as he said, “That is the case, then! I will find it out, even if a legion of devils rose to prevent me! Trust to me, Mathies, I will not be so careless any longer.”
The good boy! I did not know that he at that time loved the princess more than his life, that he had grown so pale and thin, because he was too honourable to have love-passages with his sovereign's daughter, and could not endure the idea that his wishes could never be fulfilled. Years after, however, he told me so, when he came back wounded from Russia, and I nursed him ;, this and a great deal more of my story, which I will repeat to you in his words, when I do not know it from my own experience.
Thus matters stood.
Days and nights passed in this way. At one time the White Lady showed herself, at another she remained away; still the story was becoming known in the town with all sorts of additions, and the sentinels crossed and blessed themselves when the apparition entered the corridor, and pressed themselves close to the wall to make room for it to pass.
Nothing had been yet said to the duke; but when, on the eighth or ninth morning, the sentry who stood in the narrow corridor near the plate-room, was found dead and dashed to pieces, sixty feet below in the palace moat ; when all cried unanimously, although not a soul had witnessed it, that the White Lady had hurled him down ; when the oldest and best grenadiers refused to face the ghost; they were at length compelled to tell his highness all the circumstances.
After a long consultation at the court marshal's, it was at length decided that Count von Revel, who remained perfectly cool in the whole affair, and was only vexed at the disgrace of the military, should inform the duke of the occurrence.
The audience lasted a considerable time; the count, however, came back fully satisfied, for the announcement had been received with perfect calmness. The gossip in the town appeared disagreeable to the duke, whence the conversation had principally turned on the method to be employed, by which best to prevent it. Even when the duke heard of the panic among his soldiers, he was at first silent, though he turned as red as fire, and then dismissed the adjutant with strict orders to recal all the sentries from the corridors and front passages, and leave them quite unguarded for the present. He then seated himself at his writing-table, and employed himself with other work.
I have often reflected why princes grow so clever and learn to see through people so well, although at first starting they are not a bit cleverer than other men's children. They certainly possess every advantage. They have all they want at their command, and may follow the first impulse ; besides, everybody only brings his best and cleverest ideas before them. But it cannot result from this alone, for at the same time men guard themselves before them more than they do before their equals. The main thing in the matter is, that the prince regards everything, even other beings, as his own property; mine and thine, however, makes their eyes clear, just as with a jeweller who distinguishes true from false at a distance, and will not suffer himself to be deceived, if there is the slightest flaw in the brilliancy of a jewel.
In this our master was an excellent judge. He had seen at a glance that the count must have something in the background which he would not express. What it was, he of course could not so easily discover ; but there were all sorts of intrigues at court, which crossed one another in such a way, that it was impossible to be cautious enough.
Such noble gentlemen do not like free-spoken persons about them at all hours of the day, and they cannot do so, or else it would be terribly difficult to govern. In a serious case, however, like this, those people rise in value into whose very heart they can see.
The duke was disquieted, as little as he allowed it to be perceived. He walked for a long while up and down his room, as gloomily and irregularly as if something were driving him to do it involuntarily. At last he rang for the page.
The baron entered, and remained standing on the threshold, not to disturb his master in his thoughts; he, however, looked him firmly and boldly in the face when he advanced towards him.-" Are you afraid of spirits ?" the duke asked, and looked at him, half jestingly, half seriously,