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The King did not laugh. Hoym, under the influence of the Ambrosia, had
evidently forgotten where he was, and to whom he was talking.

"Yes, laugh!" he exclaimed. "You all know me! You call me Don Juan; you
acknowledge that I am a judge of female beauty. Why should I lie?"

Here he looked at the King and was terrified at the expression of his
features. So terrified was he that he almost became sober. He would
have liked to withdraw, but, being unable, he stood there pale and
trembling.

In vain the others tried to make him talk further; Hoym only looked
down at the floor and became thoughtful.

The King nodded to Kyan, who filled Hoym's glass with Ambrosia.

"We have drunk the health of our divine Hercules," cried Fürstenberg,
"now let us drink to the health of our godly Apollo!"

Some drank kneeling, others standing; Hoym, who had risen tottering,
was obliged to lean on the table. The effects of the wine, that fear
had checked for a time, returned. His head swam - he emptied his glass
at one draught.

Behind the King's chair stood Fürstenberg, whom that monarch
caressingly called Fürstchen. To him Apollo now turned, -

"Fürstchen," said he quietly, "Hoym has not lied; he has been hiding
his treasure from us for several years, we must force him to show it to
us. Do what you please, no matter what the cost, but we must see her."

Fürstenberg smiled; he and the others were much pleased at this. The
King's present mistress, Princess Teschen, had against her all the
friends of Chancellor Beichlingen, whom she had succeeded in
overthrowing, and after whose downfall she had inherited the palace
situated in Pirna Street, and although Fürstenberg had served her
against the other ladies who had laid siege to the King's heart, yet he
was ready to serve Augustus against the whole world. Lubomirska's
beauty was not very great; to tell the truth, she was somewhat
_passée_, and her manners of a fine lady had begun to weary the King,
who liked his mistresses to be of a more daring and more lively
temperament. Fürstenberg had guessed all this from the King's
conversation. Rushing across to Hoym, he leant over his chair, and said
aloud, -

"My dear Count, I am ashamed of you! You have lied most impudently, and
in the presence of the King too. You have been practising a joke on him
and on us. I admit that the wife of such a connoisseur as you are may,
perhaps, not be a scarecrow, but to compare her to Venus, or even to
the Princess Teschen, that is a wretched joke."

Again the wine began to act on Hoym's head.

"What I have said," exclaimed he angrily, "is nothing but the truth!
_Tausend Donner-wetter Potz und Blitz!_"

All laughed at the rough exclamation, but at such friendly reunions the
King forgave all such liberties; and, while he was drinking, even
common mortals were allowed to throw their arms round his neck, and
kiss him, and were not afraid that their Hercules would turn and
strangle them.

"I bet a thousand ducats," shouted Fürstenberg, "that your wife is not
more beautiful than any of the other ladies of the court."

They poured more wine into Hoym's glass, who now drank from despair.

"I accept!" said he, speaking through his clenched teeth.

"I will be the judge," said Augustus. "And we cannot postpone sentence;
Hoym must bring his wife here immediately, and introduce her at the
Queen's first ball."

"Write at once, Hoym! The King's courier will carry the letter to
Laubegast," said Fürstenberg.

"Yes, write; write!" resounded from all sides.

Paper was laid before him in a moment, and Fürstenberg put a pen into
his hand. The unfortunate Hoym, in whom the fear of the husband was
aroused, as often as he remembered the gallantry of the King, could not
tell how he ever wrote to his wife, commanding her to come to Dresden.
But in the twinkling of an eye, the paper was snatched from his hand,
and some one had rushed with it into the courtyard, and ordered the
King's courier to ride with it at once to Laubegast.

"Fürstenberg," whispered Augustus, "I can see by Hoym's face that,
should he become sober to-day, he will send a counter order. We must
make him dead drunk."

"He is so drunk already, that I fear for his life!" returned the
Prince.

"I do not," replied Augustus quietly, "I hope I should be able to find
some one to fill the office that would become vacant by his death."

The smile with which the King accompanied this speech had such an
effect on those present, that they all crowded round Hoym, pouring wine
into his glass, and suggesting toasts, with the result, that within
half-an-hour Hoym fell asleep on the table, his face, pale as a corpse,
his head hanging, and his mouth open. For the sake of security, they
did not convey him home, but placed him instead in one of the King's
rooms, where he was watched over by the giant Cojanus, who received
orders not to let him return home, should he unexpectedly come to his
senses.

Having got rid of him, they continued their carouse.

The King was now in an excellent humour, and the radiance of his
countenance was reflected in the faces of his courtiers. Day was
already dawning when two lackeys carried Augustus the Strong to bed. He
had succumbed last of all, except Fürstenberg, who, taking off his wig
to cool his head, grew thoughtful, and muttered to himself, -

"So we shall have a new ruler, then. Lubomirska meddled too much with
politics. She wished to subdue the king, but he does not require a
mistress with brains! She has to love him, and amuse him; that is all
her business. Now we shall see the Countess Hoym!"




CHAPTER II.


Laubegast is situated on the banks of the river Elbe, two hours' ride
from Dresden. It is a small village, containing only a few better-class
dwellings, and these are hidden from view among old linden trees, and
tall, black pines.

Count Hoym's villa was built in the French style, and ornamented as
well as its modest size permitted. It was evident that its owner
bestowed great care on the beauty of his house. The small courtyard was
surrounded by an iron railing. Seen through the sheltering trees, the
house looked like some lordly residence, but it was as quiet as a
monastery.

There were no signs of gaiety about it. Two old lackeys and a few
servants might be seen from time to time, walking near the house, and
occasionally, towards evening, a lady would come forth, on whom the
population of Laubegast would gaze with admiration, but always from
behind the shelter of the bushes.

In truth, no one in the neighbourhood had ever before seen such a
beautiful woman.

She was young, and tall, and a pair of bright, dark eyes gave animation
to her pale face. There was something majestic in her movement as she
walked. But she was sad, like a figure taken from a sarcophagus - she
never smiled. She had dwelt here for several years, visited by no one
save Hoym's sister, the Countess Vitzthum. It was thus that Count Hoym
guarded his wife from the intrigues of the court, and he did not even
like to see his sister too frequently visiting his wife's retreat. The
Countess Vitzthum, however, only shrugged her shoulders contemptuously.

The Countess Hoym's only distractions were the pious books of
Protestant dreamers, which she read with great avidity. Occasionally
she took a walk under the surveillance of the old butler.

Life here was monotonous, and quiet as the grave, but at the same time
passions never entered to cause disturbances. It was only when the King
and court were absent, that the Countess Hoym was permitted to visit
the capital for a short time. This long seclusion had made her proud,
sad, and bitter; she despised the world, and was full of strange
asceticisms. She thought that her life was ended, and that she was
awaiting death, although she was very beautiful, and not more than
twenty years of age; but all who saw her could scarcely believe she was
older than eighteen, so remarkably youthful was her appearance.

The Countess Vitzthum, who in the turbulent life of the court had lost
all her freshness and half her beauty, was provoked at the unfading
charms of her sister-in-law. She was also irritated by her other good
qualities; her noble pride of virtue; her indignation at corruption;
her contempt for intrigue and lying; and last, but not least, by the
majestic manner in which the Countess Hoym looked upon her lively,
laughing, and fickle sister-in-law.

Countess Hoym, on her side, did not like the Countess Vitzthum; she
felt an instinctive repulsion towards her. For her husband she had a
cold contempt, having learned through her sister-in-law that he had
been unfaithful to her. By one tender look, she could bring him to her
feet; she knew her power, but she had no wish to use it. He seemed to
her too villainous to care for. She received him coldly, and parted
from him with indifference. Hoym was furious, but he felt feeble in the
presence of his wife, and all quarrels were stopped by his taking his
departure.

Thus the sad monotonous life at Laubegast went on. Sometimes Anna
thought of returning to Holstein, and taking up her abode with her
family who dwelt at Brockdorf; but she was not on good terms with them.
Her father and mother were both dead, and her sister, the Countess of
Brunswick, _née_ Holstein Plön, would not have cared to see her at
court. She remembered only too well the behaviour of the sixteen-years
old Anna, who had slapped the face of Prince Ludwig Rudolf, when,
attracted by her marvellous beauty, he had tried to kiss her.

Thus it was that the beautiful but unfortunate Anna had no place to
which she could turn for comfort.

Notwithstanding the corruption of the court, and the nearness of
Dresden, in which it is difficult to hide such a beautiful being from
the gaze of the people, Anna had been so carefully concealed in her
retreat on the shores of the Elbe, that despite the continual movement
of the lazy gang surrounding the Sovereign, no one had noticed her.

Except one.

That one was a young Pole, who lived at the court, which he had been
forced to enter quite against his inclination.

The first time Augustus the Strong visited Poland after having been
elected King of that country, he wished to show his strength to the
Polish nobles. With this intent, he began one evening, after dinner, to
break horse-shoes and silver plates. The Poles regarded this as a bad
omen for their country, and one of them, wishing to break the spell,
said he knew a lad who could do the same. The King felt the sting
conveyed in the remark, still he expressed a wish to see his rival.
Thereupon the Bishop of Kujawy promised to produce the noble referred
to, who dwelt at Cracow. His name was Zaklika, and he came of a
powerful family, though at present he was very poor. Then the incident
was forgotten, and the Bishop would never have mentioned it, being
conscious that he had committed an indiscretion, had not the King
reminded him of it, and asked to see Raymond Zaklika.

The youth had just ended his studies at a Jesuit convent, and was
uncertain what he should do. His wish was to enter the army, but he had
no money with which to purchase a commission, and, being a noble, he
could not enter otherwise. After long searching, Zaklika was found. The
Bishop was obliged to purchase him a decent suit of clothes, before he
could present him to the King. Then he was kept ready to be brought
forward at the first favourable moment, for the King usually rose to
display his strength after he had feasted, and was in a good humour.

At length one day, when the King was breaking silver cups and
horse-shoes, which his courtiers always kept in readiness for him, he
turned to the Bishop, who was quietly looking on, and said, -

"Father, where is your Hercules?"

Zaklika was summoned.

The youth was straight as an oak, good-looking, and modest as a girl.
Augustus smiled on seeing him. He could only converse with him in
Latin, for as yet the youth knew neither French nor German. Still there
was no need for many words. Two new silver goblets stood before the
King; Augustus took one of them, and, pressing it between his fingers,
bent it as though it had been a leaf.

Smiling ironically, he pushed the other towards Zaklika, saying, -

"Now you try. If you can bend it, it is yours."

Timidly the youth approached the table, and, taking the bumper, he
pressed it so hard that the blood rushed to his head; but the cup was
broken in pieces.

The King's face was expressive of great astonishment, and still greater
discontent. The lords who sat round, tried to persuade him that the cup
was thin.

The King then turned to the horse-shoes - they broke beneath his fingers
like dry branches - but Zaklika could do the same with perfect ease.
Augustus took out a new thaler and broke it. A thicker piece of Spanish
money was handed Zaklika. For a while the youth remained thoughtful,
then he grew eager on the matter, and eagerness lending him fresh
strength he broke the coin.

A cloud rested on the King's forehead, and his court grew sorry that
such a trial had been permitted. To reward Zaklika, the King ordered
the two cups to be given him, then, after a moment's reflection, he
told the youth to remain at the court. A small post was assigned to
him, but the next morning he was told quietly never to dare to show his
strength in that way again, or some evil thing might befall him.

Thus he remained hanging about the court; a splendid livery was
provided for him; he was allowed a few hundred thalers by way of
salary, and plenty of liberty, his only duty being to follow the King
wherever he went. Augustus did not forget him, and gave orders that he
should be provided with every comfort, but he never spoke a word to
him. Having plenty of time at his command, Zaklika began to study
French and German, and within two years spoke both languages fluently.
Being unable to spend all his time in study, he used to wander about
Dresden, visiting all the adjoining villages and forests on foot. He
was also of a very inquisitive turn of mind, and climbed all over the
rocky shores of the Elbe, yet he never met with any accident.

During one of his rambles he visited Laubegast, and finding the shade
of the linden-trees very pleasant, lay down on the ground to rest.
Unfortunately for him, it was about the time when the Countess Hoym
used to take her walk. On seeing her the youth was petrified with
admiration - he could not breathe. He rubbed his eyes, thinking he must
be dreaming; that so lovely a being existed in the flesh, he could not
imagine. Poor fellow! Thus he sat until nightfall, gazing continually,
yet being unable to satisfy his eyes. He thought one look at the lovely
woman would have satisfied him, but the longer he looked, the more he
desired to gaze on her. In short, such passion and longing arose within
his breast, that every day he rushed to Laubegast like a madman; his
head was completely turned.

As he did not confide in any one, he could obtain no advice, nor learn
that the best cure for such an illness is to avoid the danger.

Soon the youth was so much in love that he grew pale and thin. The
Countess's servants having noticed him, and guessed what was the
matter, told their lady about him in jest. She also laughed, but
afterwards she looked on him in secret. It may be that she took pity on
the youth, for she ordered him to be brought before her, and having
scolded him severely for tramping round about her house, she forbade
him ever to show himself there again.

There being no one present at their interview, the youth grew bold, and
replied that he committed no sin in looking at her, that he did not
come for anything else, and that even should they stone him, he must
still continue to come, so great was his longing to see her.

Then the Countess grew angry, and threatened to complain to her
husband, but this threat likewise was without effect. For several weeks
she avoided the paths on which she was accustomed to see him, and,
changing the direction of her walks, wandered along the banks of the
Elbe, until one day she noticed Zaklika, standing up to his neck in the
river, so that he might be able to see her. In great wrath she summoned
the servants, but with one plunge Raymond had disappeared. For some
time after this she saw nothing of Zaklika, for he had found a new
hiding-place; thus all question about him ceased; and no one noticing
him at court, he acted just as he pleased.

Only once was he summoned before the King. In an access of rage,
Augustus the Strong had cut off a horse's head, and now that powerful
monarch desired to show that Zaklika was incapable of performing this
feat. An old, strong-boned horse was brought, but at the same time the
youth was given to understand that if he valued the King's favour, he
had better let the animal alone. But Raymond was so carried away by the
desire to show his strength that he cut off the horse's head as with a
razor. The King shrugged his shoulders, and drowned the memory of his
defeat in wine. No one looked at Zaklika, but those who were kindly
disposed towards the youth found opportunity to whisper to him that he
had better go away somewhere quietly, because on the slightest excuse
he would be sent to Königstein.

But Raymond was not in the least alarmed at their words, and continued
his excursions to Laubegast. His love had made quite a different man of
him. It is needless to say that Countess Anna Hoym never said anything
to any one about this young man.

At Laubegast the gates were always shut at dusk, and the dogs released
from their chains; the servants retired early, but the lady of the
house would sit reading until late into the night.

That same night, when they were all drinking at the castle, and the
wind was blowing keen and cold across the open fields, the beauteous
Anna, having undressed, sat reading the Bible, of which she was very
fond.

It was already far on into the night, when the tramping of horses' feet
was heard, and the dogs began to bark so terribly that the usually
fearless lady grew alarmed.

Robbers did not often attack houses in those times, especially near the
capital, still such things did happen occasionally. The Countess,
therefore, rang the bell, and aroused all the servants. Some one was
shaking the gate violently, and the barking of the dogs grew fiercer
and fiercer. The armed servants went to the gate, where they found the
King's messenger waiting impatiently, with a carriage drawn by six
horses. The dogs were chained up, the door opened, and the messenger
delivered the letter.

At first Anna thought some misfortune had occurred - she grew pale - but
recognizing her husband's handwriting, her calmness returned. At that
moment there recurred to her mind the sad fate of the Chancellor
Beichlingen, who one night fell into disgrace, and was sent to
Königstein. Count Hoym had frequently told her that he did not believe
in the King, and that he should never feel safe until he had crossed
the borders of his own principality.

When she had read her husband's letter, ordering her to come to Dresden
immediately, she was greatly surprised. She could not refuse to go, for
she did not wish to expose herself to the comments of the servants, and
besides she was drawn thither by curiosity. She therefore ordered the
necessary preparations to be made, and in less than an hour she had
left quiet Laubegast behind for ever.

But strange thoughts took possession of her during her journey. She was
afraid of something, and this made her so sad that she nearly wept. She
could form no idea of the danger which she felt was threatening her,
but she was afraid nevertheless. She knew that the King had returned,
after an absence of several years, and that with his return to Dresden,
the court was full of intrigues and races for favour, in which every
possible means, good or bad, were employed. Many of the things that
happened there, though apparently light and trivial, were, in reality,
tragic.

At the very moment when those who were sacrificed were thrown into dark
and terrible prisons, lively music was being played at the ball given
in honour of those who had been victorious. Often and often Anna had
gazed on the mountain of Königstein, so full of mysteries and of
victims.

The night was dark, but the carriage, which was preceded by two men on
horseback, carrying torches, rolled swiftly on its way. She scarcely
noticed when it stopped before her husband's mansion, which was
situated in Pirna Street. Although the Count was expected, the servants
were all asleep, and it was impossible to awake them immediately. No
apartment had been prepared for the Countess, and she shuddered at the
thought of being obliged to enter her husband's room.

The office of the Secretary to the Treasury adjoined the large hall,
which, although richly furnished, looked gloomy and sad. On finding
that her husband was from home, the Countess's astonishment increased
still more, but the servants explained that this was the King's night,
and that the entertainment was usually continued until daybreak. Being
obliged to remain and rest, the Countess chose a room situated at the
opposite side of the office, and separated from all the other
apartments. In this she ordered a camp-bed to be placed, and having
shut herself in with a servant as companion, she tried to sleep. But
the beautiful Countess sought sleep in vain; she only dozed, waking up
at the slightest sound.

The day was already bright, when, having fallen asleep for a few
moments, she was aroused by hearing footsteps in the office. Thinking
it was her husband, she rose and dressed.

The morning toilet she put on only made her appear the more beautiful,
while fatigue, uneasiness, and fever increased her charms. She entered
the office, but instead of meeting her husband as she expected, she
perceived a stranger, whose bearing, combined with the expression of
his features, made a deep impression on her.

The man was attired in the long, black dress of a Protestant minister.
He was no longer young; he had a massive head, and deeply sunk, dark
grey eyes. His mouth wore a bitter smile, in which quiet contempt for
the world was curiously blended with serenity and gravity, and this
gave to his face an expression so striking that it was impossible to
help gazing at him attentively.

The Countess looked on him in astonishment, but he, as though alarmed
at the apparition of a woman, stood silent and motionless, with
widely-opened eyes, in which could be clearly seen involuntary
admiration for this marvellous masterpiece of God.

Thus he stood, his lips trembling, and his arms raised in silent
surprise.

The two strangers looked at each other, examining one another
attentively. The man retreated slowly. The Countess looked round for
her husband. She had just made up her mind to retire, when the stranger
inquired, -

"Who are you?"

"It is rather I who should ask who you are, and what you are doing in
my house?"

"In your house?" repeated the man in surprise. "Then are you the
Count's wife?"

Anna bowed. The old man gazed on her with eyes full of pity, and two
large tears rolled slowly down his dried and yellow cheeks.

On her side Anna regarded him with extreme curiosity. This unassuming
man, broken by the cares and hardships of life, seemed to be animated
by some unknown sentiment; he became grave and majestic. In his
presence that proud lady felt almost humble. The features of the silent
old man glowed with a secret inspiration. Suddenly coming to his
senses, he glanced round timidly, and then advanced a step.

"Oh, you!" he exclaimed, "whom God has created for His glory, you
beautiful vase of virtue, a being full of light, and like unto an angel
in purity, why do you not shake from off your shoes the dust that now
clings to them from their contact with this unclean Babylon? Why, oh
why, do you not flee from this place of corruption? Who was so perverse
as to cast such a beautiful child into this sordid world? Why are you
not afraid? Are you not aware of your peril?"

Anna listened to the old man, whose voice intimidated her for the first
time in her life. She was indignant at such daring on the part of the
minister, but she could not feel angry with him.

Without giving her time to reply, he continued:

"Do you know where you are? Are you aware that the ground on which you
stand shakes beneath your feet? Do you realize that these walls open;
that people disappear if they prove an obstruction; and that here human


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