that time . . . ."
The young warrior was silent.
"I understand you. It would attract attention.
Be assured ; I will come wrapped in an officer's cloak.
In the twilight, no one will recognize me."
Bertelskold remained silent. The fire in the
countess's eyes blazed higher.
" Perhaps you think the king will be provoked. It
is possible. I do not fear him. I know the temper of
princes. I know how to conquer them. King
Charles will, it may be, meet me in anger he will
be reconciled when we separate.
Bertelskold was still silent. The flush rose higher
on his brow. The countess noticed it. She redoubled
her powers of enchantment.
" Bertelskold all my hope is in you. Every other
means against the king's obstinacy has failed. With-
out you everything is lost. On you depends the fate
of my family. Yes, more, on you depends perhaps
the weal or woe of two kingdoms and the peace of the
world. And you still hesitate ! Noble count, you de-
mand a greater reward a greater still ! If there is
anything still higher, still more beautiful, speak, and
THE BLUE. 73
the thankful Aurora Konigsmark is ready to reward
your knightly service with her respect, her admiration,
her eternal friendship . . . ."
O sorceress, sorceress, thou princess of darkness in
angel form, thou who hast bewitched half of Europe
by the lightning of thine eyes thou before whom
princes have bent the knee and multitudes of adorers
have burned idolatrous incense thou beautiful, tal-
ented, irresistible demon, thou offerest a fascinated
youth the boldest reward that his most audacious
dreams have trembled to imagine, thou charmest him
with the music of most pleasing words ; and now he
stands with dizzy brain upon the brink of ruin, and no
rescuing voice warns him : " Take care, take care,
sin's most beautiful apparition ensnares thee with roses,
but within are cruel thorns ! "
Yet, that voice came ; an insignificant, unimportant
recollection the book of victories, which his sister
kept at Stockholm. This thought was enough. Gosta
Bertelskold passed his hand over his glowing brow as
if to assure himself that all this was not a juggling
dream. Thereupon he manned his soul, withdrew his
hand from that of the countess, and answered firmly
and positively, that he might free himself from every
" Countess, you just now said that a Konigsmark
never stained his shield with disloyalty. It cannot be
that you seriously desire a Bertelskold to do so. What
you ask is high treason ; my master and king I will
never betray. You ought to know it ; what reward
could you give me that would outweigh honor ?
Farewell, your grace ! You cannot misunderstand me.
You have asked like a woman ; I have answered like a
soldier, and every warrior in our camp would answer as
I have done."
With these words Gosta Bertelskold hastened away,
abruptly, precipitately ; without once venturing to lift
his eyes to another meeting with those dangerous
74 TIMES OF CHARLES XII.
flames which threatened to set his whole being
Returned to his tent, he sought to pray. He would
thank God that he had escaped temptation. In vain.
His thoughts were in a whirl. His blood was in an
uproar. He threw himself upon his hard bed ; there
was no sleep ! He again rushed out into the frosty
winter-night ; there was no chill ! A stream of fire
raged through his veins. A demon continually
brought before his eyes the bewitching image away
there in that luxurious chamber. Finally he lighted
the candle and sat down to write. He wrote to his af-
fectionate, his beloved sister ; he kept in his mind
another image whose amiable features had now for a
long time grown into his heart. And behold, it was
successful. The fire raged less, was abated, died out,
and gave place to the indescribably happy quiet of a
good conscience. Gosta Bertelskold even ventured in
a postscript to ask Ebba to inscribe Wiirgen in the
book of victories. More he did not dare to divulge.
When he left the castle, the eyes of the countess
shot dark flashes after the youth, and bit by bit she
broke up the glittering fan in her hand. Then she
rung. " Czernicki, you have your discharge to-mor-
row. To send me such a dolt ! To humiliate me be-
fore such a marble stock ! Send after Tornflycht !
No, you need not, I will not see him. I will not see
any one from this detestable camp."
The chamberlain departed. The beautiful count-
ess burst into tears. Alas, she was still a woman,
she still had a heart that heart was once as noble and
beautiful as herself, and sin and the world had not
availed to obliterate all traces of its original majesty.
All the levity of her time, a whole web of temptation's
most artful snares, had conspired for her overthrow.
How many mortals have had strength to bear her
triumphs and avoid her fate ! Those who have, may
cast the first stone at the admired, the worshipped, and
THE BLUE. 75
yet, in the depth of her heart, disappointed woman,
Maria Aurora Konigsmark, a king's mistress and a
hero's mother !
Concerning her visit to the Swedish camp, there
can be added that she undertook the boldest project
and totally failed. One day she succeeded in meeting
the king on a narrow road where he could not pass
her. She immediately stepped out of the carriage.
But the king raised his hat neither more nor less
than he would have done to the most insignificant per-
son, threw himself at once upon his horse, and rode
away without saying a word. This was her last at-
tempt. With angry tears the countess left the Swedish
camp, taking with her the proud knowledge that she
was the only mortal that Charles XII ever feared.
" Gold-haired, full-bosomed, slender,
Came Aurora, fair as day ;
From Sweden's young defender
She went unheard away."
REX REGI REBELLIS.
THE stormy times continued, and King Charles
steadily advanced. The book of victories, kept
by young Ebba Bertelskold at Stockholm, was
constantly receiving new inscriptions on new pages.
The entrance into Warsaw, the victory at Klisson, July
1 9th, 1702, and the capture of Cracow, were the greatest
and most illustrious events of that year.
During that time the intrigues of factions and strat-
egy played their dark games for Poland's crown, which
had now become the stake in the war's bloody game of
76 TIMES OF CHARLES XII.
chance. Misfortune, though cowardly as a thief, be-
gan, in the darkness, to nibble the conqueror's heels.
At Jesna, where Wiecnoviecki slew the brave Hummer-
hjelm's knight, the first Swedish blood flowed in a
Polish defeat. Patkull destroyed Schlippenbach's
corps at Erastfer. At Cracow, where Magnus Stenbock
one moment levied contributions from the property of
the churches and the citizens under penalty of confla-
gration, and the next moment let the choicest wines
flow at his brilliant table, the king broke his leg. But
King Charles regarded such things as trivial.
No pen can describe what his warriors had to
endure under painful marches, in hunger, heat and
cold, a little band surrounded by numberless embit-
tered foes. Often victory was their reward just be-
cause they fought for life. Their fame went before
them like a whirlwind ; terror paralyzed the enemy's
arm ; under the Polander's polished harness the heart
beat harder and under the Saxon's embroidered jacket
fear ensconced itself, when, afar off, the Swedish
standard was seen waving on the border of the
forest. Behind Cracow's iron gate stood old Wieopol-
ski fully determined to defend the castle and the town.
King Charles, with Stenbock and a few men, crossed
the Vistula. " Open the gate ! " shouted the king in
French. The gate was opened. Poland's second capi-
But during these conflicts and victories the king's
heart hardened, as iron becomes more dense by con-
stant hammering. All his royal and human virtues
stiffened as it were under their own excess, and thus
by degrees became the sure harbinger of impending
ruin. They sued for peace : never has a conqueror,
with greater blindness, trampled upon the fruits of
Sweden should have Courland, King August would
resign Saxony's electoral crown, pay six million rixdol-
lars in reparation of damages, and, with the Polish
THE BLUE. 77
Republic, ally himself with Sweden against Russia.
Charles refused ; he was inflexibly determined to
snatch the Polish crown from the perjured August's
head, " if he must for that purpose remain in Poland
fifty years." These were fateful words. They bore
within themselves Poland's destruction, Sweden's
discomfiture, Finland's loss. Had the Swedish hero
then turned his sword against the East, where the
avalanche, heavily, slowly, but irrresistibly moved
forward from the sources of the Volga against the
western countries, many things would now have been
different ; but, Charles XII it may be would never
have become the man of whom the poet says that
" .... he could not surrender,
But he could fight and die."
The whole summer and autumn of 1703 the Swe-
dish army lay spread out before the strong fortification
of Thorn. Seven thousand Saxons, the core of King
August's army, were within, under command of the
valiant Kanitz, and swore along with the citizens to
defend the place to the last. It was here that the
hoary Bernhard von Liewen fell at the king's side,
struck by a cannon ball, the most severely felt loss
that Charles had experienced since the gallant Duke of
Holstein fell before a falconet ball at Klissow. It was
September before the Swedes obtained heavy artillery
and reinforcements so that they could begin to bom-
bard the fort which they had hitherto sought to reduce
by starvation. The whole Swedish camp was exposed
on every side and had no other ramparts than the
courage of its defenders. It was boldness even to
temerity, the most defiant sporting with danger that
any general ever indulged in ; for all around the camp
buzzed the Polish light cavalry under Brandt. Not
even an earthwork was thrown up in front of the king's
tent ; the enemy's balls continually hovered above and
78 TIMES OF CHARLES XII.
about it. " Breastworks," said King Charles, " are less
evidences of prudence than of the heart's cowardice."
Late one evening, the king returned from reconnoi-
tring in the vicinity, went softly into his tent on tiptoe
that he might not waken his sleeping page, threw him-
self upon his hard bed and slept soundly. Early the
next morning the page was awakened by a heavy con-
cussion, which shook the tent-poles and the light
canvas. A ball had struck the top of the tent and
carried off a piece of it ; daylight shone in through the
improvised window. But the king slept.
One day when the king and the German princes
had just arisen from the table, a ball went straight
through the tent and nearly destroyed the silver service
on the table. The king smiled.
Another day the king stood in a trench and handed
out a fascine himself, in order to hasten the work. A
ball whistled by and snatched the fascine out of his
hand. King Charles took another fascine and contin-
ued the work as though nothing had happened.
These dangers had their fascination ; this personal
courage did not fail of its impression. The least
important soldier schooled himself not to regard life
and blood more than his king did.
One morning in the beginning of October a squad-
ron of the life-dragoons had taken position at the
farthest point of the works, as a shield for the laborers,
and perhaps still more for the purpose of watching the
unfortunate Polish peasants who were required in the
midst of a shower of balls to prepare walls and batteries
to overcome the strongest bulwark of their country.
The king himself was as usual foremost in the danger
not far away. A conversation arose among the dra-
goons, since they had nothing else to do.
"Bogatir has grown very poor lately," said a
bearded captain to Gosta Bertelskold, who stopped
beside him. "I'll bet you my stirrups against a
cast-off horse shoe that he won't last through the next
THE BLUE. 79
engagement. Shoot him in the forehead, that is the
best thing to do ; we shall get better horses in
" I would be crazy to do that," answered the exas-
perated young lieutenant. "Bogatir had a Finnish
dam, though his sire was Polish, and everything Fin-
nish is as tough as sin ; it lasts when one thinks it is
about worn out and in a hopeless condition. No,
better so than that Polish vivacity which rushes along,
galloping at first and dragging its legs before the ride
is over. When do you think, Lagerkrants, that we
shall get in behind those walls ? "
" When God and the king will," was the reply.
" There he stands again by the outer battery. Look
you, that is a king ! The balls hail around him like
"Certainly King Charles stands. God is his
" Let him believe that who will. I have my own
" What more is necessary than trust in God, and a
good conscience ?
"Yes, you see, the king is invulnerable."
" Tell me, you have been with the king in a good
many adventures, have you ever seen him bleed ?"
" No, I do not remember that I have ever seen
" There we have it. Twice have you seen the king
fall before the bear's paws. Twenty times have you
seen him, as it were, nod to the balls : ' Go by, scoun-
drels ! ' But you have never seen him bleed. I think
it is clear. The king is invulnerable. Neither iron
nor lead, neither living nor dead, can harm him."
" I cannot believe that. God is his shield."
" The king is not a worse man because he is invul-
nerable. Every child knows that Gustaf Adolph was
also invulnerable. Nothing could wound him except-
80 TIMES OF CHARLES XII.
ing a silver ball cast from the image of a saint. Your
grandfather was also invulnerable, they say."
" I have heard that said. But I believe that men
willingly seek small causes for great things. It is some-
thing great for a man to have a heroic heart and for a
general or a king not to give way an inch to danger, but
to seek it even more than his poorest servant. Common
persons do not comprehend this, but they invent all
kinds of superstitions in order to not believe in a hero-
ism which they do not understand."
" No, Bertelskold, you are putting on airs. You can
not deny that your father became invulnerable because
a Finnish witch gave him a ring. You are also a Finn ;
you know more than you pretend. I would not be
ashamed of it if you could get me such a talisman.
Then would I at once become a hewer. I would take
" That you can do without the ring. I cannot get
it for you ; my brother Torsten has it."
" That is a shame. Such a quill-fighter as he is will
never in his life have to do with anything but ink. But
wait yes, now I think of something. I met Torsten
the day before he went to Paris. We were talking about
the ring, and he swore that he had lost it a week
" Is it possible ? He did not tell me of it."
" Because you were always in a quarrel. I have an
idea. People said of your grandfather that he had luck
in everything, and that on this account his disposition
became somewhat inflexible, so that he did not care for
anything else, if he but accomplished what he had in
" I have heard that said."
" Well, do you understand now ? What do you say
of the king ? Is he not, as it were, a little stiff in his way,
so that no devil could turn him from his undertaking,
though it might seem quite impossible ? "
THE BLUE. 81
" Yes, because he always wishes what is right and
good and earnest."
" Bombast ! I have a proper respect for the king; no
blackguard can say that I have not. But can he help it
that he is human and can go astray ? He is quite in-
flexible. When we add to this that he has good luck in
everything, and everybody knows that, then "
" Then what ? "
" Then I will swear to it that he has the ring that
Torsten lost. Yes, just exactly the same ring ! "
"You are crazy."
" Do you notice," continued the captain, " how the
Saxons from their bastion are firing continually at the
trench where the king stands ? Thunder and lightning !
They have brought over their largest cannon. I know
it. One of their deserters told me that they called it
" That cat will not get her claws in our ermine."
" If your eyes are better than mine, tell me. I seem
to see the artillerist approach with the match. I'll
wager that they have a hint of the king's presence and
are aiming at him. Hagel und Wetter, Bertelskold.
Shall I ride thither and warn his majesty ? "
" If you go there, the king will tell you to learn
manners. Never yet has '' King Charles answered a
warning otherwise than with a frown, and when there
was an opportunity, a few lashes."
" But you are out of your mind. Scarcely four hun-
dred paces. Look out ! You will see in a minute that
the cat snarls."
Bom ! The captain had hardly finished his sentence
before the gun at the nearest bastion went off with a
deep bass that outvoiced the cannonading and the dis-
charge of musketry round about. A dense cloud of
dust and sand showed clearly enough that the heavy ball
had hit the low wall of gabions, by the trench where
the king stood.
82 TIMES OF CHARLES XII.
" Sapperment! " shrieked the captain. " Where did
the king go ? "
" I saw him just now standing there by the gabions.
Great God, if any misfortune! One can not see any-
thing for the dust."
" What did I say ? " shouted the captain, and put
spurs to his horse. Gosta Bertelskold followed him in
At the trench all was perplexity. A broad furrow
in the wall showed where the ball went ; it had cut off
a peasant's head and a soldier's arm ; a third was swept
from the ground, and that was the king.
It is impossible to describe the amazement which at
that moment seized upon those who were standing
about. The king was everything to the army, and, as
some thought, to Sweden. With him went victory ; with
him the impossible was possible ; without him all was
lost. The army had so accustomed itself to this
thought, that no one could imagine a future, if the king
The first impression lasted hardly a minute. When
the first dust was driven away by the wind, they saw the
king's arm with a skirt of his well-known blue coat ap-
pear above a pile of sand, endeavoring to work out.
Everybody rushed thither with spades and shovels, and
threw the dirt about with more zeal than discretion. A
moment afterwards King Charles was rising above the
dirt-mound as from a grave gray as his mother earth,
but mettlesome, and grumbling because his mouth was
full of sand. A miracle had occurred ; the royal hero
was entirely unhurt ; the ball had only swept over him
a little mountain of sand and small stones.
"What did I say! " whispered Lagerkrants, forgetting
his former fear. " He is invulnerable invulnerable as
granite. All the cats in the world would break their
claws against his blue coat ! "
" That amounts to nothing ! " shouted the king.
" More baskets this way ! Fire away, boys ! Give the
THE BLUE. 83
cat some peas in her eyes, so she will stop scratch-
ing ! "
A terrible fire from all the Swedish batteries, followed
by a resounding shout of exultation, showed the Saxons
the king's peril, his salvation and his courage. The cat
was soon dismounted. Great pieces of the walls and
breastworks of the fort tumbled down. At midday,
Kanits desired to capitulate with free egress. The king
refused, and ordered his men to redouble their fire.
Irritated perhaps by the last scratching, he determined
that the city should be stormed.
In the first place, Generals Posse and Stenbock, with
two thousand men, were to go around the island in the
middle of the Vistula, which was covered with cannons.
From there the city should afterward be stormed. But
the king had miscalculated in one thing : it was im-
possible to obtain boats enough for more than six hun-
When he was informed of this, the well-known angry
frown made its appearance above King Charles' eye-
brows, and his only answer was the equally well-
" Forward ! March ! "
Charles XII was a Titan ready to defiantly storm
the very lightnings of heaven. Then involuntarily
came into the mind of Gosta Bertelskold the three let-
ters R. R. R. in the heirloom of his family, the copper
ring, which letters came to mean : Rex Regi Rebellis,
the king rebels against the king. These words seemed
to him so terribly apt, that in spite of himself, he re-
called Lagerkrants's improbable conjecture concerning
the ring, and determined that he would ask his sister
Ebba about it in his next letter.
In the meantime night set in, when the adventurous
enterprise was to be executed. The danger, yes, the
impossibility, of thus storming the enemy's works was
so apparent that the bravest hesitated. Stenbock,
always wise and cautious, took courage from the
84 TIMES OF CHARLES XII.
unusual expression he read in all eyes, and ventured the
unheard-of proceeding of addressing the king in the
following sharp words, in the name of the whole com-
" Your majesty, your royal will is entirely free to un-
dertake this attack, although it is done against the
humble opinion of your whole command, and will take
your people to certain butchery. We shall, as faithful
subjects and warriors, follow your majesty wherever the
project leads ; but we, and all with us, declare that at
the moment your majesty puts his boat out from the
land, we shall rush blindly to storm the walls, that we
all may find death where our king and master cannot
fail to find it. '
At this speech, learned in his own school, King
Charles hesitated. The darkness of night spread itself
over his illustrious brow, and he gazed silently and long
upon the cloud-wrapt tower of the fort, and the broad
river, whose dark waters, stirred by a storm, seemed
greedily waiting to draw down thousands of brave
men to its dark grave.
For the first time in his life, Charles XII wavered ;
mighty thoughts dashed against each other in his un-
yielding mind. While he yet stood there, undetermined
which sacrifice was greater his will, or thousands of
wasted lives, Piper approached, the man who best un-
derstood how to lead wisely the inflexible lion.
"Your majesty," said he warily,"deign to cast a look
at the southeast. Day breaks ; it is too late to storm."
The king turned his head mechanically. In truth,
there already appeared a slight stream of the tardy
autumn morning's light glimmering in the sky and light-
ing the pinnacles of the sleeping Thorn.
" You are. right," said the king, glad perhaps to find
a reason for the first countermand he had ever given
when it related to an attack.
The king's rebellion against the king was for the
moment put down.
THE BLUE. 85
This victory of right was soon rewarded by a com-
plete triumph. Kanits saw the preparations made by
the Swedes to storm, and for the second time he de-
sired to capitulate. The fort surrendered October 13;
the officers were allowed to retain their arms ; the entire
garrison became prisoners of war. Thorn had man-
fully defended itself. The greater part of the inhabi-
tants had died from want and disease. Of the seven
thousand defenders, there remained but one thousand
six hundred well, and two thousand five hundred sick.
The valiant Kanits was received with great honor, and
given a place at his majesty's table. But the fortifica-
tion was leveled to the ground, and a fire-tax* of one
hundred thousand rixdollars took away the last remains
of the wealth of this city, lately so rich.
More difficult perhaps than all the foregoing victor-
ies, was the victory of prudence and humanity over the
inflexible, imperious will. As in the days of Charles
Gustavus, there often arose the question which con-
tinually will arise where the pride of great and strong
spirits is puffed up by the wind of prosperity :
What remains for him who has conquered the
world ? To conquer himself.
Letter from Ebba Bertelskold to her brother, Gustaf
Adolph Bertelskold, lieutenant in the life dragoons.
STOCKHOLM, Jan. 25th, 1704.
CHER GUSTAVE :
With what joy of heart your forsaken sister
received your letters, I can never accurately describe.
I hold you so very dear, that there is no other person
* A tax levied under penalty of conflagration. TR.
86 TIMES OF CHARLES XII.
in the world, excepting one, who in some degree is like
you, and that one .... Caeur de ma vie,
Gustaf, if you do not come back soon, your sister will
never find any one to comfort her.