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grew stern, and Augustus, turning to the Countess, said stiffly, -

"I beg you; I command you to leave us!"

The Countess, with her accustomed vivacity, was about to make some
reply, when the King, frowning angrily, exclaimed, -

"Go!"

Cosel withdrew, glancing angrily at Charles, who stood quietly looking
at the armour. She took Flemming's arm; that courtier's eyes were also
glowing with anger. He shrugged his shoulders. Augustus cast on them a
glance that commanded them both to be silent, and then greeted his
visitor politely, -

"We have heard much talk of your strength," said Charles, sneeringly,
"and we should be pleased to see one of those miracles you perform so
easily."

An iron rod lay on the floor; Augustus raised it.

"Give me your hand." said he, smiling, "and do not be afraid, I will
not hurt you."

Charles extended his broad, rough hands. Twisting the rod with perfect
ease, Augustus bound his enemy's hands. The two men looked into each
other's eyes. Then Augustus broke the fetters, and threw them on the
floor. The Swedish King did not utter a word, but began to inspect the
armoury.

"You have plenty of arms," said the Swede laconically, "what a pity
that you lack men to use them."

From the armoury, both Kings proceeded to the palace, as Charles wished
to pay his respects to the Queen, for whom he had as great a respect as
he had contempt for Augustus.

In the meantime, the news that Charles XII. was in Dresden spread
rapidly through the city.

His name always excited great interest. The Protestants, knowing what
he had done for their coreligionists in Silesia, were anxious to see
him. That young King, a few years over twenty, was the wonder of all
Europe. Count Flemming and all who were attached to Augustus II. were
indignant at the boldness of the young hero, who thus set the conquered
King at defiance, by coming unarmed into his capital. Flemming and
Cosel were furious, and uttered threats of vengeance. The former
ordered some of the soldiers to be fetched from the garrison, and
wished to capture the enemy, despite the King's prohibition. Anna
seized a pistol, and declared she would follow him down the street, and
shoot him.

The excitement was considerable and universal, and could not fail to be
noticed by Augustus and Charles as they passed to the palace. The King
alone was perfectly calm, and by his manner commanded every one to keep
quiet. He, as well as Charles, noticed the preparations that had been
made, but the Swede's courage did not fail him for a moment, neither
did he lose his self-possession. He made no attempt to shorten his
visit, and as Augustus was pleased to entertain him, perhaps to test
his courage, his visit was a long one. He remained for half an hour at
the castle, and this gave Flemming plenty of time to collect the
soldiers and place them in readiness; then, fearing the King would not
consent to his enemy being captured in Dresden, he despatched a
detachment of cavalry to capture him on his way to Meissen.

While Charles XII. was talking with the Queen, Flemming succeeded in
calling Augustus from the room. "Your Majesty," he exclaimed
vehemently, "this is the only moment in which we shall be able to
avenge all our wrongs. Charles XII. is in your Majesty's hands."

"Trusting to my honour," replied Augustus, "therefore not a hair of his
head shall be hurt."

"It would be ridiculous to show magnanimity to a man who has brought
such calamities on your Majesty. I shall capture him, even if I am
beheaded for so doing."

"There is something far more important than your head to be considered
in this matter," replied the King, "and that is my honour as a King. Do
not dare to do anything of the sort!"

"Then there is nothing further for me to do than to break the sword
with which I have served your Majesty." He made a movement as he spoke,
as though about to carry out his threat, but Augustus stopped him.

"Flemming," said he, sternly, "do not forget that I am here; that this
is my business, and that no one commands here except me!"

Flemming's wrath was extreme.

"Your Majesty will lose another crown by acting thus!"

With these words he rushed away, and the King returned quietly to the
Queen's apartments, where he had left his guest. Charles XII. did not
even look at him as he entered, although he guessed that outside the
door he had been the subject of conversation.

While this was taking place at the castle, Cosel was watching in the
street, waiting to fire at Charles XII. as soon as he appeared. Zaklika
endeavoured to dissuade her from her purpose, telling her that the
populace would immediately rise in his defence, for Charles was a
staunch protector of the Protestants. And indeed this would have been
the feeling among the greater portion of the crowd now waiting in the
streets.

When Charles XII. was ready to depart, Augustus ordered his own horse
to be brought, so that he might accompany his guest. The streets were
thronged with people, the windows were filled with curious heads, a
profound silence reigned, as the two Kings rode along the streets; it
seemed as though the waiting multitude held their breath, in their
anxiety to catch the conversation of the riders. All eyes were turned
towards Charles, who rode calmly along without exhibiting the least
sign of feeling or emotion. Beside him rode Augustus, looking gloomy
and thoughtful, but at the same time majestic. They turned towards the
gate leading to Meissen. The King had sent orders that three cannons
should be fired in honour of the Swede. When the first shot was fired,
and Charles turned to express his thanks, Augustus touched his hat, and
smiled indifferently. At the gate, the cannon were fired a second time.
Charles now wished to take leave of his host, but Augustus knew
Flemming and his people too well not to suspect that they had prepared
some ambush. He knew also that the only way in which he could protect
the Swede was by accompanying him until he was out of reach of danger.

Augustus accompanied his guest to Neudorf; here they shook hands and
parted. Charles XII. galloped on his way, but Augustus sat motionless
for a few moments, gazing straight before him, wondering whether after
all he had done well in listening to the dictates of honour.

He was still waiting there, when Flemming arrived foaming with rage.
"Your Majesty," said he, "doubtless thinks that Europe will admire your
magnanimity, but if you imagine that it will counterbalance the
imprisonment at Patkul, you are greatly mistaken. The people will laugh
at such heroism."

"Silence, Flemming," cried the King threateningly, then turning his
steed, he galloped away alone in the direction of the city.

He dismounted at the Palace of the Four Seasons, where he found Cosel
even more indignant than Flemming.

"Do not come near me!" she exclaimed, sobbing. "You have made a
grievous mistake. I do not wish to see you any more. Twenty millions of
money, hundreds of thousands of soldiers, the death of your officers,
your own shame, all this you might have avenged, and you would not. You
were afraid!"

The King threw himself on the sofa, and allowed the Countess to storm
as she pleased - he did not utter a word. Only when, exhausted by
passion, she sank into an arm-chair, he remarked coldly, -

"I had no wish to stain my honour with such a revenge!"

The next day, seeing that every one reproached him for his lenity, he
summoned a council of war, which being presided over by Flemming,
declared that it would have been right to imprison the Swedish King,
and force him to sign a fresh treaty, seeing he had so frequently
violated all the laws of nations.

The King heard them in silence.

The Swedish envoy at Vienna, having heard of the council, remarked
contemptuously, -

"These people decide on the second day what they should have done the
day before."




CHAPTER XII.


The Swedish King had not yet left Saxony when Augustus began giving
splendid festivals, for which he had plenty of time, although not much
money. Naturally, Cosel was first at all entertainments, and she ruled
King and country despotically.

When weary of balls, tournaments, and carouses, Augustus was fond of
taking excursions through the country.

In Nizyca, in the old Slav lands of Luzyce, there is a very old
settlement, situated at the foot of a mountain, called Stolp. This
mountain was pushed from out the bowels of the earth by some strange
phenomenon of Nature, and its enormous rocks of black basalt stand
boldly forth, looking as though they had been hewn by the hands of
spirits. On these rocks, which were so hard that iron could not break
them, there was built, many centuries ago, a castle, whose business it
was to dominate and defend the borough that lay at its feet. From this
mountain a wonderful view is obtained; afar to the south, one sees the
Saxon and Bohemian mountains covered with forests; to the west, there
stand forth the copper mountains of Saxony; nearer are visible those
gigantic heights, in form like the pyramids, on which are seated
Ditterzbach, Sonnenstein, and Ohorn; to the East one sees the forests
and mountains of Hochwald - whilst in the far distance Bohemian villages
and towns are visible.

In days of yore, the old castle of Stolpen was the property of the
Bishops of Meissen, and stood forth to view, magnificent though gloomy,
with its pointed towers, which not even thunderbolts could destroy.
This castle was surrounded by enormous walls, near it was a large park,
and in the adjoining forest game was to be found in abundance.

One beautiful day in July, before the heat had set in, horses stood
ready before the castle of Dresden. One of Augustus' courtiers had told
him of the strange mountain, composed of iron-like rocks, on which the
castle of Stolpen stood, and the King, recollecting it, longed to see
it.

The dew was still wet on the grass and trees, when the King came forth
to mount his charger. At the same moment Zaklika appeared with a
message from Cosel, inquiring where His Majesty was going.

"Tell your mistress," said the King, "that I am going to Stolpen, and
that if she choose, she may overtake me; but I am not going to wait
until the heat of the day has set in; this will be the case long before
she has finished dressing."

Cosel had just left her bed, she was angry that the King had not
notified her of this excursion; and when Zaklika returned with the
answer, she felt hurt that the King was not willing to wait for her.
Still she gave order that the horses should be saddled, and some young
nobles invited to accompany her. Everything was to be ready in half an
hour, for Cosel was determined to show the King that she did not
require to take a long time dressing, in order to appear beautiful. She
wished to overtake him before he could reach Stolpen. In half an hour
the gentlemen invited were ready, and Cosel's white Arab steed, its
saddle covered with crimson velvet ornamented with gold, was neighing
impatiently. Then the beautiful lady came forth to the astonishment of
her admirers. She wore a wonderfully becoming dress. Her hat was blue
with white and azure feathers; her bodice was blue embroidered with
gold, and a full white skirt, likewise trimmed with gold, completed her
costume. She sprang on her horse, impatient to start as soon as
possible. Then she welcomed her guests with a gracious smile.

"Gentlemen," said she, raising her small hand, in which she held a
riding whip whose handle was set with precious stones, "the King has
challenged me to race with him. He started half an hour ago, but we
must overtake him, even though our horses should die in the attempt, or
we should break our own necks. He who cares for me, will follow me!"

Having said this, the bold amazon turned her horse towards the gate,
and galloped madly down the street. Zaklika and an equerry followed her
closely, to be in readiness in case of accident. The others followed
after. With the white Arab keeping well ahead, they passed through the
old city, and turned to the left towards Stolpen. Fortunately for the
party, the high road was broad and sandy, the morning refreshing, and
the horses strong and fresh. In silence, the Countess's brilliant
cavalcade flew along the road, as though carried by the wind.

They passed mountains and groves, meadows and fields. Through the
orchards they could see the villages of the Wends, with their houses
surrounded by wooden piazzas, and covered with high roofs. From time to
time they met a peasant coming along the road, who doffed his cap
respectfully at sight of the marvellous apparition, but before he could
open his mouth to reply to the question whether he had seen the King,
the riders who had asked it had disappeared in clouds of dust.

The horses were covered with foam, and, after an hour of mad riding,
the equerry besought the Countess to stop and rest. At first she would
not listen to him, but in the end she slackened her pace, and the
horses stopped in front of an old house. The poor animals were
panting and snorting. In the doorway stood an old, yellow-faced,
miserable-looking woman, leaning on a stick. She glanced at the riders
with indifference, and then turned her face from them.

Only once Countess Cosel's eyes and hers met, and the beautiful lady
shivered.

They asked the old woman about the King, but she only shook her head.

"We don't have any kings, our kings are dead!"

She spoke slowly and with indifference, and her accent was that of a
foreigner.

At that moment, a middle-aged man came out of the house; he had long
hair, and wore a blue jacket with silver buttons, knee breeches, and
stockings. Taking off his hat, he welcomed the guests in pure Saxon
German.

He told them that it was three-quarters of an hour since the King had
passed the house, but that he was riding so fast that it would be
impossible to overtake him.

Cosel then inquired if there were not a shorter way, but finding there
was none, she dismounted, and expressed her intention of resting for a
few moments. Thereupon the German offered the company some beer.

"Who is that woman?" inquired Cosel, pointing towards the beggar.

The German shrugged his shoulders contemptuously:

"She is a Slav, a Wendish woman! I cannot get rid of her. She claims
that this property used to belong to her father. She lives not far from
here in a hut built at the foot of the mountain. I don't know what she
lives on; she wanders across the fields muttering, and who knows but it
may be some devilish incantations, for she must be a witch. Sometimes
of nights when the storm howls she sings, and then we shiver. I cannot
chase her away, for she knows how to conjure up devils, who serve her."

Then with a sigh, he added, -

"She foretells the future, and she is never mistaken."

Cosel turned and looked at the old woman; then she went over to her.
She was the only one of the party bold enough; her companions, hearing
witchcraft mentioned, had withdrawn to a distance.

"What is her name?" she asked the German.

The man hesitated, then whispered so low that even she could scarcely
hear what he said, -

"Mlawa."

The old woman made a movement as though she heard her name; she raised
her emaciated head proudly, shook her long, hanging, grey locks, and
looked around, as though searching for the bold person who had dared to
mention her name.

Unheeding the woman's strange manner, Cosel, to the surprise of her
companions, went up to the old beggar. For a moment the two women
looked into each other's eyes.

Cosel was the first to speak.

"Who are you?" she asked. "Tell me why you are so poor."

Mlawa shook her head.

"I am not poor," she replied proudly, "for I have memories of happy
years. I am here still on the land that belonged to my family. I am the
Queen."

"You are a Queen?" laughed Cosel.

"Yes, I am a Queen! for the blood of the kings of this land flows in my
veins. All things are possible in this world. You, though to-day you
are almost a Queen, by to-morrow may be as miserable as I."

"Of what kings are you speaking?" inquired Cosel thoughtfully.

The old woman raised her hand and pointed to the surrounding country.

"All that was ours - all, until you came and took it, and slew us as
though we had been wild beasts. We were good; we came with bread, and
salt, and song; while you came with iron, fire, and slaughter. And the
German race multiplied, and pushed us out of our land. It's my land,
and I must die here. From this place my soul will find its way back to
my people."

"Are you able to tell fortunes?" asked Cosel, urged thereto by feverish
curiosity.

"That depends," said Mlawa indifferently.

"Would you do it for me?"

The old woman looked on her pityingly.

"Why do you wish your fortune told?" asked she. "Whoever rose as high
as you have done can only fall; better not ask!"

Cosel paled, but anxious to show that she was courageous, she smiled,
though her lips trembled.

"I am not afraid of anything," she said, "I can look at happiness, as I
can look at the sun; and I shall be able to look into the darkness
also."

"But suppose the darkness lasts too long?"

"It cannot last for ever," rejoined Cosel.

"Who can tell?" whispered Mlawa. "Let me see your hand!" she added,
stretching forth her own.

The Countess retreated a few paces, feeling rather afraid, for in those
days every one believed in witchcraft.

"Don't be afraid, my beauty," said Mlawa calmly. "I shall not soil your
white fingers, I shall only look at them."

Cosel drew off her glove, and exhibited to the old woman, a beautiful
white hand, glittering with rings.

"What a beautiful hand! Worthy to be kissed by kings; but, my child,
there are dreadful signs in it. That hand often touched the face that
looked on her boldly. Am I right?"

Cosel blushed; Mlawa was thoughtful.

"What are you going to tell me?" whispered Cosel uneasily.

"You are going on towards your destiny. Who has ever avoided his fate?
Who has ever seen its precipices? After long happiness, there awaits
you a still longer, oh, far longer season of penitence, a rigorous
captivity, sleepless nights, unaccustomed tears. Having children, you
will be childless; with a husband, you will be a widow, you will be an
imprisoned Queen; you will be free, but you will throw away your
freedom - you will be - oh! don't ask me - "

Cosel was as white as marble, but still she tried to smile.

"What have I done to you," she asked, "that you wish to terrify me?"

"I pity you!" said Mlawa. "Why did you wish to look into my soul?
Wormwood grows there! Bitterness flows through my words. I pity you!"

The old woman's head drooped.

"You are not the only one! Thousands have suffered in this world, and
have died, and their ashes are scattered by the winds. Like you,
thousands are moaning in slavery - my forefathers, grandfather, father,
kings. I am the last of their race. The German has driven me from my
home."

Cosel drew a gold coin from her purse, and handed it to the old woman.

"I don't take alms," said she; "you will pay differently; everything is
reckoned above."

And raising her hands, she walked into the meadows.

During this conversation, Cosel's companions had been standing at a
little distance, admiring her courage. Now none dared ask why she
looked so pale and thoughtful. She mounted her horse, but she dropped
the rein and allowed the animal to guide her.

They continued to ride forward, but slowly. Then from afar high towers
appeared in sight.

"That is Stolpen," said the equerry.

An hour's more riding and they reached the castle. The King's cavalcade
was standing opposite the rock of basalt, waiting for the Countess,
whom they had seen while she was still at a distance.

Augustus advanced to meet her with a smile of welcome.

"I have been waiting for you an hour," said he.

"Yes, for I lost half an hour over some fortune-teller," replied the
Countess.

The King looked surprised.

"Well, what fortune did she prophesy for you?" he inquired.

Anna looked at him, and her beautiful eyes filled with tears. Augustus
grew confused and alarmed. Then he strove to chase away her sadness,
and was gallant and witty.

"What a magnificent castle these Bishops of Meissen built!" he said.

"It is dreadful! Fearful!" said Cosel shivering. "I am surprised that
the King should come for pleasure to a place where memories of torture
and cruelties reign supreme."

"Why, my lady," interrupted Augustus, "your beautiful eyes can make
bright the gloomiest spot. I am happy everywhere with you."

He offered her his arm and she leant on it. Thus they went round the
dreadful castle. The Countess was silent, the King serene. Perhaps he
was thinking that when his prisons at Königstein and Sonnenstein were
full, he would be able to shut up a few prisoners here. He wished to
see the interior of the castle, but Cosel remained outside, looking at
the black towers and walls. The King went on further and examined the
prisons, called "Monchlock," where the monks were kept, then the
"Richter-gehorsam," and a pitch dark "Burguersiess," into which the
prisoners descended by means of a ladder. Although empty, everything
was in good order. Augustus looked at everything with eager curiosity,
and as though he were searching for traces of the old tortures. At
length, having looked at the walls of the fortress, he left the castle.

Outside he found Cosel just where he had left her; she appeared
gloomily thoughtful.

"What a dreadful place!" she repeated. "It seems as if I could - can
hear the moans of those who have been tortured here."

"We cannot be tender towards every one," said Augustus, indifferently.
"But how is it you have such gloomy thoughts? Let us leave the castle
and go into the park. I have ordered them to have lunch ready. Soon
they will drive up some game, and we shall be able to admire your skill
in shooting them."

In the park, under a magnificent Turkish tent, they found lunch all
ready prepared for them. The sun was scorching, the heat was
overpowering, so that none of the company were very animated. Even the
witty Kyan sat silent in front of his full glass. Augustus did not like
silence, so he ordered the servants to serve quickly, and then fetch
the rifles.

Luncheon ended, all went into the park. Cosel followed the King, but
she felt very sad, for Mlawa's words, foretelling the dreadful fate
that awaited her, still rang in her ears, though at present no signs of
such a fate were visible. Augustus, on the contrary, was merry.

Towards evening, having killed a few deer and boars, Augustus mounted
his horse. Cosel rode beside him. As they passed the house where she
met Mlawa, Cosel searched for her with her eyes, but she was not there.
A little further on they saw her standing leaning on her stick, as
though she were waiting to see the King. She glanced at Cosel and
smiled, as though recognizing an old acquaintance. Augustus turned from
the sight of her in disgust.




CHAPTER XIII.


Prince Fürstenburg and Count Flemming had made a compact to get rid of
Countess Cosel. She ordered them, as if she had been a Queen, she
treated them proudly, and she squandered money like a child who is
ignorant of its value. The influence she had acquired over the King
alarmed every one. None of the King's favourites had had such power,
such faith in herself, and none of them had been able to keep the
fickle Augustus so long at her side. The whole court longed for her
downfall; the number of her enemies increased daily. But the Countess
heeded them not, and when the faithful Zaklika told her things that he
had overheard, she only laughed contemptuously. Slowly yet surely the
forces of her enemies were gathering together against her, but as yet
they did not venture to declare open war. They were waiting for certain
symptoms that would lead them to believe that the King was tired of
her, and would indicate that the fight would be crowned with victory.

On the one side were adroit and clever courtiers, drilled from
childhood in the art of intriguing, and aided in their enterprise by
corrupt and cunning women; on the other side was Countess Cosel, proud,
intelligent, trusting in her beauty, in her imaginary title of wife, in
the knot that had been made fast by having her children acknowledged,
and a few friends without influence, and a few double-faced people, who
were eager to be on the victorious side, and only waiting to see which
side had the greatest power. The prospect was that the war would be


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