Józef Ignacy Kraszewski.

Memoirs of the Countess Cosel online

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not obey every one."

"Choose whom you please," replied the King, much bored by the scene.

The old lady recommended a Frenchman, by name Montargon, who had come
over to Poland with Prince Polignac. Half an hour later he had the
King's order that Cosel was to be sent back to Dresden.

"What am I to do, supposing she will not obey your Majesty's order?"
inquired the Frenchman.

The King looked thoughtful; then, after a short silence, replied, -

"I will order Captain La Haye and six guards to accompany you; it seems
to me that should be sufficient."

The captain was sent for, and given the necessary orders, and that same
night the detachment of soldiers marched out against one unarmed woman.




CHAPTER XVI.


Before starting on her journey, Cosel summoned the faithful Zaklika.

"All have forsaken me," said she; "I have none on whom I can rely."

Zaklika looked gloomy.

"Will you also leave me?"

"I? Never!" he replied shortly.

"I think I can rely on your noble character, and your devotion to me."

"Always!" said Zaklika, raising two fingers, as though he were taking
an oath.

"I wish to entrust you with the most precious thing that I possess,"
said the Countess, lowering her voice, "but you must promise me that
you will sacrifice your life, rather than give up that which I am about
to give you; that you will guard my honour as - "

"As a holy relic," said Zaklika, raising his fingers a second time.
"You may rely on me!"

"No one must know that you possess this thing."

"Do you wish me to swear?"

"No; I believe your word. But you must know what it is you have to
guard. I said you would be the guardian of my honour. When the King
granted me a divorce from my husband, he gave me a written and sealed
promise that he would marry me, otherwise I should never have consented
to such a life. They will try to take this promise from me. They may
torture me, but I will never tell them where it is. I cannot conceal it
here, for they can banish me, and it would not be safe to carry it with
me."

She opened a mahogany box ornamented with gold, and took from it a
small leather bag with a silk cord.

"You will not betray me!" said she, looking into his eyes.

Tears rolled down Zaklika's cheeks, as he knelt down before her and
kissed her hands; then, suspending the bag round his neck, he said, in
a voice full of emotion, -

"This shall only be taken from me with my life."

"We are going on a journey," said Cosel. "Things may turn out worse for
us than we expect. You must have money."

She handed him a bag of gold.

A few hours later Cosel set forth, taking with her the loaded pistols
which she always kept at hand.

Everything went well until they reached Widawa, a small town on the
borders of Silesia. Here they were obliged to rest. Cosel put up at the
best hostelry, at which there was a detachment of cavalry. Zaklika was
at the door of the Countess's room, when Montargon and La Haye came to
him with the request that he would announce them to the Countess, to
whom, having met her on the road, they were anxious to pay their
respects.

Cosel was much surprised at receiving such a message, as now every one
seemed anxious to avoid her, still she suspected no danger, and ordered
Zaklika to bring them in.

The Countess received the officers courteously, and as it was the hour
for dinner, she invited them to share her modest repast.

Conversation flowed easily during the meal; Montargon told the Countess
all the latest news from Warsaw; at length he said, -

"It seems to me that your journey is futile. So far as we know, it may
make the King angry. You may meet with unpleasantness."

Cosel frowned.

"What!" she exclaimed, "you dare to give me your advice? You pretend to
know the King better than I do, and to be a better judge than myself of
what is fitting for me to do?"

Montargon looked confused.

"Pray excuse me!" he muttered.

"I will not excuse you!" exclaimed the Countess, "for it was
impertinent, as well as in bad taste. Keep your advice for those that
need it."

Montargon made a grimace.

"It is true," said he, "that you do not need advice from me, but
suppose I have the King's order?"

"An order from the King?" cried Cosel.

"Yes."

"Even in that case I am not bound to obey," replied the Countess. "The
King is overpowered by my enemies, he is doing that which he has no
right to do, and he will regret it afterwards. I am sure he will be
glad that I have not obeyed him."

Montargon was a polite man, but the Countess's tone offended him, so he
replied in a soft tone that made his words all the more offensive, -

"I should be greatly obliged to you, Countess, if you would spare
me the unpleasantness of employing that most simple of all
arguments - force."

"What?" exclaimed Cosel. "You would dare employ force against me?"

"I have a formal order to compel you to return to Dresden," said
Montargon, "and I shall obey it."

Then the Countess's anger burst forth.

"Leave the room!" she cried, seizing a pistol. "If you do not go, I
will shoot you through the head."

Zaklika stood ready on the threshold.

Montargon, who knew well that the Countess would keep her word, slipped
out quickly. La Haye, who up to the present had not uttered a word,
remained. The lesson his comrade had received had been good for him,
and he now began very delicately, -

"Countess," said he, "ambassadors are never fired on; I pray you, calm
yourself. We are not responsible for bringing such an unpleasant
message. I should be in despair, should I incur your displeasure; but
for Heaven's sake, consider; to a military man, the King's order is a
sacred thing, and must be accomplished."

"Have you seen the King?" inquired Cosel.

"Yes; I received my orders from his own lips. I beseech you to give
heed to it!"

This soft tone completely disarmed Cosel, she sank trembling into an
arm-chair.

"Be calm," continued La Haye. "It seems to me that there is nothing
serious for you in all this."

"And that Denhoff?"

"That is only a passing fancy," said La Haye; "something like the amour
with Duval, which he has already forgotten. Moreover, Denhoff is
married, her husband is in the country, and knows nothing of all this;
should he learn the truth, there would be no chance of his allowing her
to come to Dresden. But the King must return thither, then you will see
him, and regain your former influence over him."

Cosel began to ask questions about everything, and La Haye laid the
whole story before her in such a light, that he considerably modified
the appearance of danger to herself. After a quarter of an hour's
conversation, the Countess was persuaded that it would be better for
her to return to Pillnitz.

Montargon did not show himself again, but sent a messenger immediately
to the King with the good news. Being afraid, however, that Cosel might
change her mind, he followed her with La Haye and the soldiers from
afar, till they were sure she would not return.

In the meantime the Countess Denhoff began to attract attention by
receiving the too frequent visits of the King. The respectable people
were scandalized at the behaviour - at her dishonouring the good name of
a married woman, during her husband's absence. They were much more
shocked at the fact that her own mother was an intermediary agent, that
her own sister was a witness, that they boasted of such conduct. Count
Denhoff's whole family began to press him to call his wife to his
country estate; and Denhoff sent her imperative letters, urging her to
leave Warsaw immediately.

But the young woman sent her mother instead. When she came to her
son-in-law's château, she said to him pointedly, -

"You must not plague us with these demands to return, for it cannot be
done. We are not going to give up the happiness of our whole family for
your fancies; the King is in love with Marie, and we intend to keep
him. Do you wish me to bring her here for the sake of stupid prudery,
and neglect our interests?"

Denhoff was a man of the old school, and he had already heard of his
wife's flightiness.

"Madam," said he, "I am not inclined to share my wife's heart with the
King; and, frankly speaking, there would remain very little of it for
me, for, as it seems, many people court your daughter."

"Then," said the Countess, "you must either be silent, and thus assure
for yourself the King's favour, or else consent to a divorce. The papal
nuncio, Monsignor Grimani, is quite friendly towards us; he will secure
the divorce in Rome."

"Deliver me from the King's favours; but if you would free me from my
wife, I shall be only too thankful to you for it," said the Count.

The Countess was greatly astonished that her son-in-law should so
readily give up all chances of the King's favour; but having received
his written consent to the divorce, she returned with it to Warsaw. The
nuncio wrote to Rome, and Clement XI. ordered the divorce to be
granted.

There was thus no longer any objection to Countess Denhoff accompanying
the King to Dresden; except, to be sure, that Cosel would be in her
way.

In order to get rid of her rival, Countess Denhoff feigned that she
lived in continual fear of her, and she incited the King to send her
from Pillnitz, so that she would not be able to return to Dresden. Then
Flemming helped her, reminding the King that he should take from her
his promise of marriage, so that she would not be able to compromise
the King. Augustus found he was right, and ordered Count Watzdorf to be
written to, to try and obtain that document from Cosel and persuade her
to leave Pillnitz.

Cosel was obliged to receive him, knowing that he came on an errand
from the King.

"The best proof," said he, "that I wish you well is my coming here. I
would like to help you to come to some understanding with the King; but
you must show some goodwill, and finish peacefully like Aurore and
Teschen."

Cosel blushed.

"Aurore and Teschen," exclaimed she, "were his favourites, while I am
his wife. I have his written promise."

Watzdorf laughed.

"Ah! dear Countess," said he, with offensive familiarity, "it is an old
story. You know well how tyrannical passion is; a man is not master of
himself under its influence. Our King also signed the peace at
Altranstadt, but does not consider himself bound by it; it is the same
with his promise to marry you."

Cosel could hardly contain her indignation.

"No! I still believe he is an honest man who knows what he does, and
deceives neither himself nor any one else."

She began to pace to and fro.

"Tell me, then, frankly," said Watzdorf, "what are your conditions? The
King is willing to grant them to you, only you must not ask anything
impossible or attach too much weight to trifles. You will give me back
that paper."

Cosel turned towards him excitedly.

"Did you come for that?" she asked.

"Well, yes."

"Then return," said Cosel angrily; "for as long as I have life I shall
not surrender that paper; it is a defence of my honour, and that is
more precious to me even than life. Do you think I had consented, for
all the King's riches, to stretch out my hand to him if he had not
given me the promise of marriage?"

"But you well understand," said Watzdorf, "that it is of no value, for
the Queen is living."

"Then why do you want it back?" asked Cosel. "You must be ashamed that
the King has deceived me."

"I cannot hear any reproaches against the King," said Watzdorf.

"Then return from whence you came," said Cosel, leaving the room.

The Count stopped her.

"Think of what you are doing; you are forcing the King to be severe
with you. He can use force! You cannot hide the paper so that it cannot
be taken from you."

"Let him try, then," said the Countess.

"It would be a very sad extremity," rejoined Watzdorf, "and we would
like to avoid it. If you oblige us to use force, you cannot expect
anything else."

Cosel did not let him finish, but said to him, -

"You wish me, then, to sell my honour? I assure you that there is not
money enough in the King's treasury to pay for the honour of such a
woman as I am. I shall not return that document for anything! I wish to
let the world know how I have been deceived."

Tears rolled down her cheeks.

"No!" she exclaimed suddenly, "you lie; it cannot be the King's will;
you blacken the King, wishing to defend him. I have not yet doubted his
noble heart, although I believe he is occasionally thoughtless. The
King cannot ask for it."

The messenger silently took from his pocket the King's letter and
handed it to the Countess.

She glanced at it contemptuously.

"If that which he signed for me has no value now," she said, "what
weight can I give this letter? Tomorrow the King may ask you to return
that to him."

Watzdorf, in confusion, replaced the letter in his pocket and said, -

"Countess, I pity you - you may believe me or not, but I am sincere. For
God's sake, think of what you expose yourself to! remember the lot of
many people. It is dangerous to oppose the King."

"I know him better than you," she answered.

"I beseech you!"

"Spare yourself the time and trouble," said Cosel quietly. "It is in
vain; you can do less with me by threatening than by persuasion."

She threw a contemptuous glance at him and left the room.




CHAPTER XVII.


Hardly had the carriage in which Count Watzdorf had come disappeared
than Cosel called Zaklika to her. Being afraid of spies in her own
house, Cosel told him to follow her into the courtyard, and there she
tried to speak to him as if she were giving him some instructions
concerning the house.

Zaklika had guessed her thoughts.

"We are watched here, are we not?" said Cosel.

"Yes," answered the faithful servant.

"Can we deceive them?"

"The principal spy is Gottlieb, but he is stupid."

"Gottlieb!" exclaimed the Countess.

"Yes; the man that talks so much of his fidelity to you."

"In the city everybody knows you, I suppose?"

"Many of them have forgotten me," answered Zaklika.

"Could you bring some news?"

"If I must, I will."

"It is dangerous for me to remain here," continued Cosel. "I must
escape. I have confidence in you alone; you must advise me how it can
be done."

Zaklika was silent and thoughtful.

"It is difficult, but if we must - "

"Then," said Cosel, "I must take my jewels and money with me."

Zaklika did not say a word; he pulled his moustache and lowered his
eyes.

"Could you assure me that we shall be able to cross the frontier before
our escape is noticed?"

"I will do my best."

His face was covered with perspiration; it was evident that he doubted
the success of the enterprise, but he did not wish to show it.

"We should have done it a long time ago," said he.

He snapped his fingers and frowned. Cosel looked at him with fear and
curiosity. This silent, energetic man was so different from the others,
on whom she could not count; he astonished, but at the same time
rejoiced her. She felt that he was a man.

"I have a boat," said he, "hidden in the bushes. During the night I
will go into the town and learn everything I can; then I will think how
we could escape. You must not call me - they will think I am shut up in
my room, as has happened often before."

At that moment Cosel perceived Gottlieb stealing towards them, and not
wishing that he should guess anything, she nodded to him. The German
swiftly approached.

"Gottlieb," said she, "I would like some flowers planted, for I think I
shall stay here a long while. If you go into town you must try and get
me a gardener, for the Pole says he does not know anybody."

Gottlieb looked at them both as if trying to guess whether she was
speaking the truth, and began to assure the Countess that he would do
anything to please his beloved mistress.

Cosel entered the house, and Gottlieb tried to learn something from
Zaklika, but it was in vain.

Towards the evening the Pole, as they called him, disappeared. This
aroused the suspicions of the spies; they tried to open the door of his
room, but found it locked. The room was on the ground floor, so they
looked into it through the window, opposite to which was the bed. A man
was lying there. This quieted the spies, and they let him sleep.

In the meantime Zaklika unmoored his boat, and, jumping into it,
allowed it to be carried down by the stream, which bore it swiftly
towards Dresden. In a couple of hours he perceived the lights of the
capital. He already knew where to go for news.

In the Dresden Court, where every one squandered money, the bankers
were very important people, and among them was Lehman. He came from
Poland, he was a laborious and honest man, shrewd in money
transactions, but scrupulously honest. Cosel had sent Zaklika several
times for him, and they had had some important transactions.

The Jew, who had the best of opportunities for learning people's
characters, had recognized in Cosel a noble soul; he had entire
confidence in her, and respected her very much.

Zaklika knew that even after Cosel's downfall Lehman had given her
proofs that he remained faithful to her, and he thought he could trust
him and ask him for advice.

Having left his boat near the hostelry of a Wend, as in those days
there were still many of them in Dresden, he drew his hat over his eyes
and went into the town.

When he had passed the gates, although it was late, he recognized by
the movement in the streets that there was an entertainment in the
castle. Zwinger and the garden of Hesperides were illuminated. The King
was giving a torchlight masquerade to the Countess Denhoff.

Zaklika did not go near the castle, but went directly to Judenhause,
situated in Pirna Street, in which Lehman had a modest house. Zaklika
was sure that he would find the banker alone at this hour, and he was
anxious for nobody to see him. An old servant opened the door to him,
and showed him into a room at the rear of the house.

Lehman, a quiet man, with steady black eyes, shook hands with him, and,
in reply to Zaklika's inquiring look round, said, -

"You are safe here; no one can spy on you in my house. What is your
news?"

"Bad news," answered Zaklika; "it couldn't be worse. They hunted us
from the Palace, from the house in Dresden, and now they wish to drive
us from Pillnitz - or perhaps something worse. We must help that
unfortunate woman - persecuted as she is by these cowardly villains."

"Yes," said Lehman; "but we must be careful, and not hurt ourselves in
the attempt."

"Cosel must escape," added Zaklika.

"To where?" asked the Jew. "She would be safe only beyond the seas."

"I hope the King will not ask his neighbours for our extradition."

Lehman moved his head.

"The Countess," went on the faithful servant, "must take what she can
with her, for anything she leaves, the rapacious people will seize, as
they did that which she left in the Palace."

The banker nodded.

"But it would not be safe to carry the money with us in our flight, for
we might be caught and deprived of everything. You must help the
Countess to save the rest of her fortune."

"Believe me," said the banker, "I am willing to help the Countess. I
knew her well; she was the only pearl amid all that mud; but you must
understand that it would not be right for me to endanger myself and my
family for her sake."

"God alone will know of your good deed, and you know that neither I nor
the Countess would betray you."

"Well, I consent," said the Jew; "but you must be careful that nobody
sees you going out, for I, too, am watched by spies."

"I will be careful," said Zaklika.

"Everything you give me I will send you whenever it best suits you,"
added the Israelite.

Lehman took from a sideboard a bottle of wine and two glasses.

"No, thank you," said Zaklika. "I must hasten, for I want to learn some
news to take to my mistress."

"It is always the same old story," said Lehman, gloomily; "those who
drink with the King they are in favour; they enjoy themselves from
morning till evening, and they send to Königstein those who are in the
way of their amusement. You must not ask for pity or heart, for the
least sensitive people are those who are lascivious. The King uses all
of them, bestows favours upon them when he needs them, and he despises
them."

"What about the Countess Denhoff?"

"She gathers money, that's all; and it seems the King already thinks of
marrying her to somebody."

Lehman shrugged his shoulders.

"You wish to learn something," continued he. "Here the people are
changed, but not the things."

They talked a little while longer; then Lehman led Zaklika to the gate
at the rear of the garden, and gave him a key for it. Zaklika, wrapped
in his mantle, went on further. He did not think it would be dangerous
to mix with the crowd, to approach Zwinger, and see what was going on
there.

He was already in the street leading to the castle thronged with
_nobles vénitiens_, when somebody slapped him on the shoulder.

He turned, surprised - the fool Fröhlich smiled at him.

"How did you recognize me?" asked Zaklika.

"Besides the King, nobody here has such broad shoulders as you have,"
whispered Fröhlich. "What are you doing here? I heard that you were
with Cosel."

"I left her," answered Zaklika, "There was nothing to do after her
downfall."

"You are right," said the fool; "one must always take care of one's
neck. Then you returned to the King's service - or perhaps you are with
Denhoff?"

"Not yet," answered Zaklika. "But tell me, what do you think of her?"

"She is like those little black animals that jump and bite, but which
it is difficult to catch," said the fool, laughing.

They were still talking when a passing Spaniard, with a mask on his
face, stopped, and began to look attentively at them. Zaklika wanted to
go, when the masked man approached him, raised his hat, and seized him
by the hand.

Fröhlich disappeared immediately.

The unknown asked Zaklika imperatively, -

"What are you doing here?"

"I am looking for a position," answered he.

"Do you no longer like the service in which you were formerly?"

"They do not need my services there now."

"What kind of position are you seeking?"

"I am a nobleman," answered Zaklika.

The Spaniard muttered something, then he said, -

"Where is Cosel?"

"Probably in Pillnitz - I am not sure."

"Come with me."

"Where?"

"Don't ask; you are not afraid, I hope."

Zaklika went, and he soon noticed that the stranger led him to
Flemming, who was at home, drinking with some friends. Masked men went
to and fro; those who preferred the wine remained. Flemming expected
the King. There was a great noise in the house.

The Spaniard entered, and whispered something to Flemming, who then
came to Zaklika, and conducted him to a separate room. The Spaniard
followed them.

"When did you leave Cosel?" asked he.

"A few days ago."

"What was she doing then?"

"She was settling in Pillnitz."

"Does she intend to stay there?"

"I think so."

"Why did you part from her?"

Zaklika understood that he must win their confidence, and he
answered, -

"She dismissed me, for now she does not need many servants."

"Do you know Pillnitz well - the people and the roads?"

"Very well indeed!"

"Would you accept another service?"

"Why not?"

"Even were you obliged to act against your former mistress?"

"The King is my only master," said Zaklika, "for I am a nobleman."

Flemming laughed.

"Come to me in two days," said he.

"Very well."

Flemming wanted to give him some money; but Zaklika refused to accept
it, and withdrew.

Thus he was sure he had two days in which to save his beloved lady.

He wrapped himself in his mantle, and visited some friends in the
suburbs; then he took his boat and went towards Pillnitz, sculling hard
against the current of the river.




CHAPTER XVIII.


Among other items of news that Zaklika gathered was this - that the next
day another masquerade was going to be given in the old market square.
There was not a day without either concert, opera or ballet, or some
kind of entertainment. Musicians brought from Italy, singers, and
composers, were so well selected that Dresden Theatre was the first in
Europe. Lotti was the musical composer; Tartini gave concerts; Santa
Stella was prima donna, Durastanti was called the princess of opera
singers; Senesino and Berselli were famous tenors; Aldrovandini painted
scenery; Bach was musical director.


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