Józef Ignacy Kraszewski.

Memoirs of the Countess Cosel online

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the officer was ready to give the order to fire, when the King's
aide-de-camp galloped up with a pardon.

Helm was led back to the barracks; but no one knew what was to be done
with him. The crowd scattered.

At Stolpen Castle, except for new precautions and a change of
commandant, nothing was altered. They did not touch Cosel, who enjoyed
even the little liberty she was allowed before.

Cosel was mourning in her heart the death of another victim of her
love, for the news of his pardon was slow in reaching her.

Zaklika returned to his quarters, and began preparations for that which
he thought was his duty. But being more experienced than those who
preceded him, he wanted to be certain that the last attempt to fly was
certain of success. He was not discouraged at all because Wehlen had
lost his life and Helm broken his career. The only question was, would
it be better to quit the military service and go to live at Stolpen or

A few months passed. During this time Zaklika learned that a friend of
his, Von Kaschau by name, a good but very dissipated fellow, was in the
garrison of Stolpen. He went to see him, and when the old soldier
perceived him, he was overwhelmed with joy. He asked the commandant to
let Zaklika stay at the castle. The commandant, being unwell, and
needing Von Kaschau to do his duty for him, consented. The two friends
went to Kaschau's rooms, drank beer and chatted, naturally about the

"I do not like to judge others," said the old soldier, "especially His
Majesty, our King, but I do not see any reason for his severity to that
woman! What could she do? The most would be that some one would fall in
love with her, like Helm, for she is still beautiful. Nothing has
injured her charms - neither prison, nor grief, nor tears."

"Had you seen her in her full splendour, as I did when I was at the
Court," said Zaklika, "then you would know how dangerous she was. The
King was not afraid of her pistol, but of her eyes and the influence
she had over him; for if she could speak for an hour with him, he would
lie at her feet and pray for pardon."

Kaschau laughed.

"Yes, but then he would lie at the feet of Fraulein Dieskau or
Osterhausen - the old wheedler!"

"I would like to see her," said Zaklika, "for it would be interesting
to see such a woman again."

"No one stops you from doing so," said Kaschau. "During the day you
cannot steal her away; you may go there and bow to the former goddess."

Zaklika went to the tower and knocked at Cosel's door. As there was no
answer, he entered, and beheld Cosel standing thoughtfully over an open
Bible which was lying on the book-covered table. She was robed in such
an odd dress that he feared she had lost her reason. She wore a full
black robe with long sleeves and a girdle with cabalistic signs on it.
On her head was a red handkerchief, arranged in Oriental fashion, with
a roll of parchment on which some Hebrew sentences were written.

She was beautiful indeed, but quite different from that Cosel who
received the Danish King in a robe covered with diamonds.

She did not take her eyes from the book, but remained thinking.

After a while she looked up at him, and said in surprise, -

"Are you a spirit or a living being?"

"I am your faithful servant; I have come to ask your orders," said

"Then there are faithful servants; and I, a prisoner, can still give
orders? To whom?"

"To me," answered Zaklika, "as long as I live."

"How did you come here?"

Zaklika pointed to his uniform.

"Now is my turn," said he. "I will try to be more intelligent, and
perhaps I shall be more lucky."

Cosel smiled bitterly.

"Everything is written above, predestinated, unchangeable - no one can
escape his fate."

"And why should it not be my fate to give you liberty?"

She shook her head.

"For this reason, that I shall be free in another way," said she.
"Formerly I was blind, but now I see my destiny in this book. There is
no favour in this world; there is only iron, unbreakable, unavoidable
necessity. One must submit to it. In the Old Testament alone is

Zaklika did not know what to say to that.

"Do you remain here?" asked Cosel.

"I do not know yet. Tell me what I have to do; I am ready for

Cosel turned over several pages, and began to read:

"'And he said again, Be not afraid; strengthen yourself and be wise,
for thus will the Lord do unto all them against whom ye fight.'"

Then she said, -

"You must await God's voice."

"But am I to quit the military service or not?" asked Zaklika.

"Throw down that horrid livery - that coat of slavery of the
Amalekites," said Cosel with animation.

"It will take some time to sell the commission before I could come to

"Go, then, and return," said she. "You are the only man who serves me

Zaklika left her. In the courtyard he met Kaschau.

"What have you been talking about with her?" asked he.

"I could not talk at all," answered Zaklika. "She was reading the
Bible. I did not want to interrupt her. I must come again."

"I doubt you will have a better chance. Now the Countess seeks
distraction in holy books. It is better."

They spent the day in walking on the ramparts and chatting till the
moment of locking the gates. Then he took leave of his friend and
returned to his quarters in Ochatz, where he sold his commission,
gathered as much money as he could, and came to Stolpen, where he
purchased a little house in which he settled.

[Illustration: The Countess Orzelska]


Many changes took place at the Court in Dresden. Cosel was avenged
without putting her hand to it. Her foes disappeared one after another.

Amid the ruins King Augustus the Strong was always standing
magnificent, throwing away gold, seeking pleasures, but not being able
to find them.

The Countess Marie Denhoff, being afraid that she might meet the fate
of Cosel, thought it would be wise to marry, and the King did not
oppose it. The King enjoyed himself the best in Leipzig fairs, and
preferred short amours to those which would fetter him for a long time.
The beautiful and statuesque Sophie Dieskau claimed him for a while;
but the King found her cold as an icicle, and he married her to Herr
von Loss. After that he was in love for a while with Henriette
Osterhausen. These temporary love intrigues were followed by the reign
of Anna Orzelska, the daughter of Henriette Duval.

The King seemed to become younger at his beautiful daughter's side,
who, clad in a uniform embroidered with gold, accompanied him to
military reviews, man[oe]uvres, and hunting.

The King was always eager for distractions, and the arrival of Anna
Orzelska furnished him with an opportunity for the display of still
greater splendour.

Amid different pleasures furnished by the King's fancy, there were
moments when Augustus thought that he was a military genius, and wanted
military parades.

In 1727 the King was spending the spring in Pillnitz, where the troops
were camping. They tried new cannons which were able to break the rock
on which Königstein was built.

"I know some rocks," said Count Wackerbarth to the King, "which would
resist those cannons."

"Where?" asked Augustus.

Wackerbarth looked at the King, and it seemed as if he were sorry for
what he had said.

"Where?" repeated the King.

"At Stolpen; the basalt rocks would resist."

"In Stolpen!" exclaimed Augustus, and he was gloomy.

There was a moment of silence. The King walked to and fro impatiently;
it was evident that he was tormented by some fancy which he did not
want to satisfy.

"In Stolpen!" repeated he. "One could try the cannon on those rocks."

The general looked timidly at the King, who, as if he were pricked by
that look, exclaimed, -

"Why should we not try the balls on the basalt rocks? We cannot destroy
the castle, and a few shots - "

Wackerbarth was silent, and waited for orders, still not believing that
Augustus wanted to show that he was superior to the childish

"Send two cannons to Stolpen," said he, "and give orders for them to be
trained on the rock. To-morrow I will see the trial personally. Yes,
to-morrow morning very early, for it is warm already towards noon."

He turned and went off.

Orders of the King were always executed, notwithstanding all
difficulties. The cannons were sent to Stolpen during the night.
Zaklika was sleeping in his solitary house, when, about midnight, he
was awakened by a great noise and shouting of impertinent soldiers. He
thought that Saxony was being invaded by the Prussians, but soon he
recognized the Saxons by the exclamation, "_Herr Jesus!_" repeated
continually. Then he went out and asked the officer what had
happened - why such haste.

"The King," shouted the officer, "will be here this morning."

"The King! In Stolpen?"

"Yes, yes; he will try cannons against the basalt rocks."

"Where?" cried Zaklika, amazed.

"Here, at the rocks on which the castle stands," said the officer.

The conversation was interrupted. Zaklika could not believe his own
ears. The King was going to fire at the castle in which he had
imprisoned that unfortunate woman! The King in Stolpen! His hair stood
on end to think what suffering it would cause the Countess. He wanted
to rush and tell her, to give her courage to bear such a trial bravely.

"It cannot be!" repeated he to himself. "At the last moment the King
will be ashamed, and will not come! It could not be!"

The dawn was breaking when Zaklika left his house and rushed to the
castle, where everybody was awake. The news that the King was coming
electrified the soldiers and officers. In the town and villages
soldiers were urging the population to make the emplacements. Crying,
shouting, and loud commands were heard all around.

One of the batteries they had already begun to build in the park near
Röhrpforte, the other at Hanewald.

When Zaklika arrived at the castle he found the gates already open.
They were sweeping and cleaning; the commandant was hoarse with
shouting; the officers did not know what to do. Round the St. John's
Tower the Countess's servants stood half-dressed, for they thought it
was an alarm of fire. They asked each other questions as to what they
should do. At the open window was Cosel. She was pale and trembling.
Zaklika rushed up the stairs.

She met him at the door with the exclamation, -

"The King is coming to me!"

"Not to you," interrupted Zaklika, "he comes to try his cannon balls on
the rocks."

Cosel laughed.

"You are a simpleton!" cried she. "I have dreamed of him for a week. My
spirit hovered over him and attracted him. He was searching for a
pretext; he wishes to see me. He knows that I love him, that I shall
forgive him. He is free; he wishes to marry me as he promised. I wish
to be beautiful! I want to remind him of that Anna before whom he used
to kneel. The King!" exclaimed she in ecstasy, "my king! my lord!"

"Call the servants," added she. "Tell them to take out my dresses!"

Zaklika rushed out and called the servants, then sat on the stairs,
silent, full of grief, half-dead, unable to move.

The day was bright. They counted minutes and seconds. Merciless
soldiers slashed at the peasants, urging them to work; the batteries
were rising before their eyes. It was a most charming May morning. The
scented trees were sprinkled with dew; all nature, like a baby in the
cradle, was awake smiling. Amid the quietude of nature, everything in
the castle was noisy, moving, seething like a bee hive.

The soldiers dressed in their best uniforms; the officers in new
armour. The commandant learned, to his great despair, that the King's
provisions were not coming to Pillnitz, and it was necessary to receive
the lord. What could they find worthy of His Majesty's palate? They
killed a couple of deer in the park, they found a few bottles of wine;
but how could the simplicity of the camp table agree with the King's
accustomed luxury! In fact they had only one decent glass with the arms
of Saxony worthy of lordly lips, but the plates and the other things
were very poor. The priest lent a table cloth from the church; the
innkeeper furnished a great many things.

The cannons were placed in the batteries. It was already four
o'clock - at any moment they might expect the King, who said he would
leave Pillnitz at daybreak. The commandant put a soldier on the tower,
to let him know when he should perceive dust on the road. The
artillerymen aimed the cannons so as to be sure the balls would strike
the rock.

Everything was ready when the soldier on the tower gave the signal. At
that moment the mayor of the town, with the councillors carrying a
rusty key on a tray, went out on the road. In the church, ringers were
ready to receive the lord with a peal of bells. The inhabitants of the
town were dressed in their best clothes, and crowded the streets and
market square.

The clouds of dust approached swiftly, and at last they perceived,
galloping at the head on a magnificent steed, a good-looking, majestic
man. He was followed by aides-de-camp and a small retinue of courtiers
and guests.

At the gate the King hardly nodded; the mayor and his councillors bent
to the ground; he went immediately in the direction of the castle. Here
the garrison was drawn up at the gate; the drum was beaten and the
commandant came out with a report. But the King seemed uneasy and in
bad humour. He did not say a word to anybody. He turned his horse to
the battery at Röhrpforts, looked for a while, and then hurried to
Hannewalde. In front of that battery there rose a black mass of basalt
rock. From here the St. John's tower and its windows, in one of which
was a white figure, could be clearly distinguished. But the King did
not raise his eyes.

At that moment General Wackerbarth arrived from Dresden, and stood
behind the King in silence. Augustus was in a hurry: he nodded. The
artillerymen put a light to the touch-hole of the cannon, and there was
a loud report which was echoed in the surrounding mountains. A sharp
ear could catch at the same moment a dreadful cry of despair and grief.
The King, however, could neither see nor hear anything, his attention
being absorbed by the cannon and the result of the firing.

The first shot directed at the wall built of basalt, made a hole in it,
but the iron ball was broken into pieces. The commandant brought some
pieces to the King, who deigned to look at them, and shrugged his
shoulders. The other shot was directed at the rock itself; the ball was
broken into pieces, but the rock withstood the blow.

The King, growing feverish, ordered a third and fourth shot to be
fired; the result was the same - the rock could not be broken, except
for a few splits where the ball struck.

From the first moment that Cosel heard of the King's coming, she was
half-mad. At first she thought that Augustus was coming to see her; she
dressed with feverish haste and the greatest care, looked long in the
mirror and smiled to herself.

"I am sure," she whispered to herself, "he is coming to see me. It is
the end of my captivity, and the beginning of my triumph."

She rushed from one window to another. From one of them she could see
the road coming from Pillnitz. She noticed clouds of dust, and her
heart throbbed - she cried. Then the pealing of bells and the beating of
drums were heard - the King was entering the castle. Then silence. She
pressed her heart with her hand, and waited. It seemed to her that she
would hear him on the stairs - that she would see him at the door, full
of pity and benevolence. The silence lasted too long, then the report
of a gunshot resounded, shot and cry. Cosel fell on the floor. Suddenly
she rose, mad, bewildered, and rushed to the wardrobe. Her hands
trembled; she opened the drawer and took a pistol that was hidden among
silk dresses. Then she went to the nearest window, looking round. From
this side she could hear the noise of the broken rock and the bursting
of the cannon balls on it. Cosel leaned out; her eyes were aflame; her
bosom heaved. She waited.

At each shot she beat her head and pressed her heart. Wild laughter was
on her lips and tears filled her eyes.

After the fourth shot, everything became quiet. Cosel did not move from
her place, and held the pistol in her hand. Soon the sound of the tramp
of horses resounded on the road. Cosel leaned out and looked.

It was he! Augustus, riding on a path near the walls!

She screamed. He raised his head, stopped his horse, and touched his
hat with his hand; he was pale.

Cosel leaned out still more, as though she would jump through.

"Sire! my lord! Have pity on me!" cried she.

Augustus did not answer; and Cosel laughed bitterly.

"To expect pity from you, vile tyrant! From you who break your promises
and then imprison those who ask you to fulfil them! What do you care
for human life? What do you care for human heart? Cosel, a prisoner,
despises you and curses you: yourself, your family and your country!
Die, you villain!"

She aimed and fired at the King. The pistol shot resounded in the
castle mingled with laughter. The King, hearing the whizz of the ball,
came to his wits; he saluted smiling, and galloped off in the direction
of Pillnitz. The commandant's efforts to offer the King a luncheon were


When Zaklika, alarmed by the pistol shot, entered Cosel's room, he
found her lying on the floor senseless. Beside her was a pistol, still
smoking. He guessed everything. The servants rushed to help the lady,
who seemed to be dead.

Many people heard the shot, but Augustus never said a word about it to
any one. Hence they came to the conclusion that they must not speak
about it.

It took the Countess quite a long time before she assumed her former
order of living. Now she was persuaded that she could not expect

They did not, however, forbid visitors to see her, and later on she was
allowed to go into the garden.

Zaklika remained in town, but did not arouse any suspicion as he kept
quiet. Cosel used to ask him to do different errands for her, but she
never spoke about flight.

Only the next year she was irritated by the news of the gorgeous
festivities given in Dresden in honour of Frederick William of Prussia,
who visited Augustus with his son Frederick, since called the Great.

Cosel listened to the description of the festivities, and was irritated
at the thought that formerly such splendour was displayed for her. It
again aroused in her the desire of escape, and of revenge upon the
tyrant for her suffering and humiliation.

Several times she was ready to say to Zaklika, "Now is your turn." He
expected it, and waited. He was ready to die for her sake, but did not
wish to awaken the danger himself.

One day when the Jewish pedlar brought to Cosel, together with some
goods, a newspaper describing the last entertainments given for the
King of Prussia, and among the others the same carousal that was for
the first time organized for her, she became indignant.

Zaklika came in at that moment. She was walking to and fro

"Are you still ready to risk your life for me?" she asked.

"Yes!" answered Zaklika simply.

"Have you any means of freeing me?"

"I will find some."

"I pity you; you were the most faithful to me," said she; "but I must
escape from here, I must."

Zaklika stood thoughtful.

"Do you need much time?"

"I cannot calculate," answered Zaklika. "I must act so as to be sure of

Cosel nodded, and Zaklika went out into the park, he needed solitude to
think over the matter. For a long time he had several plans, but every
one of them had some drawback.

All the former attempts were unsuccessful because the flights were
discovered too soon; therefore it was necessary to make a plan which
would not be discovered before Cosel should be beyond the Saxon

Unhappily Zaklika had nobody who could help him. He could count on the
faithfulness of his Slav brothers, Wends and Servs, but they were timid
and not artful at all. He came to the conclusion that it would be best
to fly during day-time.

At the gate there was no strict control over who came in and who went
out; they let in pedlars to the Countess and to the commandant; the men
did not attract special attention. Therefore he came to the conclusion
that during some rainy day Cosel could pass the gates covered with his
mantle. He would follow her, and conduct her beyond the park, where he
would have saddled horses, on which they could cross the plains towards
the woods and mountains.

Zaklika was thinking for several days, but was unable to find anything
better, and he at last decided to tell her about the plan.

She thought it very good.

"The first rainy day," said she. "It is no use to wait; we must try our
luck. I have decided to defend myself. I hope you will do the same."

"I hope it will not be necessary," said Zaklika.

For several days there was fine weather. Zaklika was coming in and
going out continually. Thinking that he should not return again to
Stolpen, he sold his house, and converted everything he could into
ready money.

At last the sky was covered with clouds, and it seemed to promise rain
for several days. Zaklika, covered with his long mantle, was
continually coming in and going out of the castle, not answering the
questions made to him by the sentries, as if telling them that he did
not like to talk much. The trials were very successful. One Friday it
rained hard from the early morning. When dusk began to fall everything
was ready. Cosel gave the servant leave to go to the town.

Covered with a long, military mantle, with a cap pushed over her eyes,
Cosel went first to the St. Donat's gate, and no one paid any attention
to her; at the second gate the soldiers looked at her, but let her

A few minutes later Zaklika, dressed in the same manner, passed the
first gate quickly, in which he did not meet anybody. At the second
gate the soldier muttered, -

"How many of you are there?"

Zaklika uncovered his face.

"Devil knows you," said the soldier. "I know only that there came in
one, and two go out."

"What are you talking about?"

"I am not blind."

Zaklika paid no attention and moved on. The soldier stopped him.

"But they all know me here," said Zaklika.

"Go to the commandant and explain to him, otherwise I shall not let you

They began to quarrel. The corporal came. Zaklika complained to him,
and they let him out, and he disappeared in the bushes beyond the park;
but the soldier grumbled.

"Why are you angry with him?" asked the corporal.

"When I am at the gate, I must count how many people I let in, and how
many out. There entered one clad in a long mantle, and two of them went
out. The first looked as if he never was a soldier. Suppose it was the
Countess?" added he, laughing.

"You talk nonsense!" said the corporal, with uneasiness. He stopped,
thought for a while, and went to the St. John's tower. Here he learned
that all the servants had been permitted to go to town.

He rushed up the first flight - the room was dark and empty; on the
floor above - nobody either. The corporal hastened to the commandant,
who rushed out and began to search with the soldiers in the castle.
Time was passing by; dusk was already quite thick. There was no doubt
that Cosel had escaped! They struck the alarm, and the commandant,
dividing his soldiers into several groups, rushed out to chase the
fugitive lady.

In the meantime Cosel ran to the horses, which were ready at a certain
spot; in her great haste she lost her way. Zaklika reached them, and,
not finding the Countess, rushed to seek her, but not daring to call,
for the alarm was already given.

He lost much time, but he found her standing under a tree. He seized
her by the hand, and conducted her to the horses. Cosel jumped on her
horse, and Zaklika was ready too, when the soldiers arrived and
surrounded them. Zaklika cried to Cosel to run, he barring the road to
the soldiers.

A few shots sounded, and the faithful man, struck by a bullet in the
forehead, fell to the ground moaning. At that moment a soldier seized
the reins of the Countess's horse. She killed the aggressor on the
spot; but there rushed forward another and a third, and she was obliged
to surrender.

The commandant arrived when the two cold corpses were already on the
bloody ground - the third was dying.

"Countess," said he, "look how many lives your fancies of escape cost!"

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Online LibraryJózef Ignacy KraszewskiMemoirs of the Countess Cosel → online text (page 19 of 20)